Karl Eller Center helping UA students mind their own business

By Kerri Ginis

Arizona Daily Wildcat

In its tenth year at the UA, the Karl Eller Center's Berger Entrepreneurship Program pushes students beyond the classroom and into the real world of owning a small business.

"This program allows students to learn about small business and then apply what they've learned to creating a business plan which many of them try to implement," said Allen Atkins, assistant director of the entrepreneurship program.

Throughout the yearlong program, students work in pairs and concentrate on forming a business plan that describes in detail their small business ideas.

"This is the best way to get the overall viewpoint of how a business works," Atkins said.

Every year, the program has been listed in the top 25 entrepreneurship programs in the country by Success magazine, said Gary Libecap, director of the Karl Eller Center.

The program accepts about 45 to 50 seniors and MBA students every year. Students must also have a 3.0 grade point average to apply.

Students are accepted into the program in the spring and devise a business plan over the summer. In the fall, faculty decide which plans have potential to be successful and then pair students to work on plans together.

Usually, only half of the plans devised over the summer are fiscally viable, Libecap said.

In the past students' business plans have focused on opening restaurants, music stores and bike shops. Other plans were scientific in nature, such as creating an optical mirror or implementing a new type of plow for tilling cotton, Libecap said.

Every April, the Karl Eller Center holds a business plan competition where members of the business community judge the students' plans.

The competition consists of students writing a 50-page business plan, giving a 12- to 15-minute presentation of their plan, and taking part in a 12- to 15-minute question and answer session, Libecap said.

Usually about 150-200 people attend the competition, many of whom are investors who offer to give the students funding for plans, he said.

Sam Valenzuela, an entrepreneurship and finance senior, is in the program and his business plan focuses on marketing computer software.

"This program really allows you to see the big picture of a business," Valenzuela said.

Andrea Barrett, who graduated from the program in May, 1994, said she is implementing her business plan by opening a healthy low-fat restaurant in Tucson called Nature's Express in December.

"Being in this program, I learned how to build a business from the ground up," she said.

Libecap said about one-third of the students decide to implement their business plans.

"To actually take the risk and go out and put everything on the line is a big commitment," he said.

Sean Sullivan, who also graduated from the program last year, said he didn't immediately start a business from his plan.

He said he is planning to start a computer forensics business with three other friends using what he learned from the program to get started.

"The biggest benefit of going through the program was not the business knowledge that I gained, it was the people knowledge that I gained," he said.

Atkins said in addition to working on their business plan, students also take two classes in the fall and two classes in the spring that focus on finance, marketing and economics.

Students also hear outside speakers from the business community besides receiving instruction from faculty and adjunct faculty who are members of the business community.

The Eller Center is accepting applications for next year's program through December and January.

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