January 28, 2011

College grads make their own jobs

With Colorado’s unemployment rate at 8.6 percent, college graduates are getting creative when it comes to making a career out of their newly completed educations. For more and more graduates, this means starting a business venture all their own.

Fortunately for these young hopefuls, the entrepreneurial environment in Colorado is a friendly one, from business schools preparing students to begin their venture to established business owners who welcome aspiring entrepreneurs.

The College of Business at Colorado State University is making sure that students have the opportunity to gain all the skills and inspiration necessary to jump-start any entrepreneurial leanings they may have. The college offers a certificate of entrepreneurship program to interested business and engineering students.

According to Associate Professor Dawn DeTienne, who manages CSU’s entrepreneurship curriculum, the program requires that students complete three courses, beginning with an introductory class that teaches the basics of getting a start-up off the ground, then continuing with a class on business planning.

Students then choose between three courses: one on project start-up, one on social and sustainable business, or one on corporate entrepreneurship.

The program works for many of the students who complete it, DeTienne said.

“We have students every semester who go out and start their business,” she said. “All of the professors have started their own ventures, so they have the experience and the education.”

Young people realize dreams

Two CSU business school grads who completed the entrepreneurship program and made the most of what they learned are Juwon Melvin and Aaron Madonna. After graduation in 2008, they began DreamReel Media, a business focused on helping young people realize their dreams.

Melvin said that he and Madonna first came up with the idea in one of the entrepreneurship classes and decided they wanted to make it a reality.

“I’m in love with the idea of creating something that never existed before,” Melvin said.

Melvin and Madonna took their idea and their passion and launched their business, which uses different media to communicate the same message: “Live Young. Live Well. Live Now.”

They both hold down day jobs, but according to Melvin, both men will be employed solely at DreamReel Media by May.

Part of the reason for the success of small businesses like DreamReel Media is the support of established businesses in Colorado. Brad Feld, managing director at Foundry Group in Boulder, believes in the inclusion of young entrepreneurs as a way to keep the current entrepreneurial environment alive and vibrant.

“You have to continually get fresh blood into the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Feld writes on his blog, FeldThoughts. “It has to be easy for a new entrepreneur to emerge in your community and get connected with the experienced entrepreneurs and investors. If someone moves to your community, it has to be easy for him or her to engage.”

Colorado is one of the easiest states for young businesspeople to break into the entrepreneurial world, according to FormDs.com, a website that tracks the number of SEC filings by startups and growing companies when they raise money.

The most recent data collected by FormDs.com shows Colorado had 95 fundraisings per million people between October 2009 and October 2010, second only to Massachusetts with 100 fundraisings per million.

Open to collaboration

The friendly atmosphere in Colorado is “extremely important,” according to Carl Hammerdorfer, director of the Global, Social and Sustainable Enterprise Master of Business Administration program and executive director of the Center for Advancement of Sustainable Enterprise at CSU.

“The amazing thing about Colorado is the real, incredible openness to collaboration,” he said.

The GSSE program is another example of how CSU is preparing students to break into the entrepreneurial world. The program trains students to be entrepreneurs, but more specifically gives them the skills and knowledge needed to launch businesses that earn money while providing some good or service to those at the base of the economic pyramid, often in other countries, such as India or Sri Lanka.

The program, like the undergraduate certificate of entrepreneurship program, allows students to build a venture. Approximately 30 percent of students bring their ventures to fruition after graduation with the help of an incubator that exists as part of CASE called the New Economy Venture Accelerator.

This incubator is designed to assist with new businesses, whose products are typically still prototypes that are unlikely to attract early financing, according the Hammerdorfer.

The Monfort College of Business at the University of Northern Colorado offers young entrepreneurs a shot at financing as well as feedback from local business experts through its annual Entrepreneurial Challenge. This year, 24 have advanced to the preliminary challenge phase of the competition, according to David Thomas, assistant professor of management for the College, 17 in the startup ventures category.

They all presented their business concepts on Jan. 26 (after the Business Report went to press) and received a private roundtable session with the judges.

On Feb. 3, five finalists in each category will be notified that they are one step closer to earning a share of the $36,000 seed money. The 10 finalists will then compete in the all-day Entrepreneurial Challenge on March 3 on the UNC campus in Greeley, which will also feature a variety of workshops and networking with local companies that support entrepreneurial growth.

With this sort of support, the future looks promising for graduates with the drive and desire to create their own job opportunities. They just might find some answers to the question Juwon Melvin poses to young people he meets through DreamReel Media: “What are you going to get out of this thing called life?”

With Colorado’s unemployment rate at 8.6 percent, college graduates are getting creative when it comes to making a career out of their newly completed educations. For more and more graduates, this means starting a business venture all their own.

Fortunately for these young hopefuls, the entrepreneurial environment in Colorado is a friendly one, from business schools preparing students to begin their venture to established business owners who welcome aspiring entrepreneurs.

The College of Business at Colorado State University is making sure that students have the opportunity to gain all the skills and inspiration necessary to jump-start any entrepreneurial leanings…

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