Take five dollars, start a business and make a profit in one week...
This was the first 'experiential learning' assignment of the semester in Dr. Ray Dart's Entrepreneurship and New Venture Development course in the Business Administration program. In recent years, groups of students have made between $100 and $300 through this micro-venture activity. But this year, to Prof. Dart and the students' surprise, one group of four made an outstanding $2,150.
"This project was truly remarkable in a number of ways, not only did the students make ten times more than most of the other groups, they also came up with a beneficial business idea and responded to an important social need," says Prof. Dart.
The students' inspiration for their business venture was in fact, Trent University students themselves. This group of four, consisting of Christian von Sperber, Jennifer Lennox-Coulter, Russel Rashel and Danielle Vlietstra, set out on an 'honest advertising campaign' looking to connect Trent University students and downtown businesses in a mutually beneficial relationship.
The students approached their favourite downtown businesses and asked them to purchase ad space on a flyer that would be distributed to 1,000 Trent students. The flyer would, from the students' perspective, advertise the 'top 20 places to go downtown'. Over the course of two days of 'solid work,' the students sold the ad space on their flyer, realizing a 50 per cent success rate in sales.
"What we tried to sell was the value of our advertisement," said Mr. von Sperber, adding downtown businesses were guaranteed that the flyer would find itself into the hands of 1,000 students.
The flyer, headlined 'What we upper years wished we knew in our first year -- 'The Twenty Best Places to go Downtown,' features ads from coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores and other retailers. Along with each ad is a first-person comment on the shop's attributes, written by the business administration students. The green cardboard flyer was designed with the assistance of a graphic artist and photocopied. It also states, 'Brought to you by 'Trent locals.'
"This was a really clever proposition," said Prof. Dart. "The students asked themselves 'What is there a need for in Peterborough and at Trent?'"
The flyer was distributed to students, in exchange for a donation if they so desired, on Trent's Faryon Bridge and in the residences. In handing out the flyers, the group earned $450 in donations. When all was said and done, the students split just under half of their profit - $1,000 - four ways and earned $250 each. The other $1,150, the students donated to a single mom to support the care of her teenager with autism. The students say the supporting businesses never knew their advertising dollars would go to support such a cause.
"It's a neat reflection of the uniqueness of the program, its community spiritedness and its overall humanistic focus," says Prof. Dart. "The students have not only created a successful business venture, but they've done something to benefit the community and then a charity. This was the neatest way for the course to kick off."
"If you have an idea and you think it's possible to do, you really have to stick with it, though there may be doubts," said Mr. von Sperber, as the students discussed their project.
"It's amazing what you can do under pressure," added Ms. Vlietstra. "Having time doesn't necessarily mean success. We decided on the name of the business in five minutes."