Michael Song, left, IEI executive director, Bloch School Dean Teng-Kee Tan, and Bank of Blue Valley President Bob Regnier (far right) talk with a student showcasing at VCC.

New businesses take root

IEI helps students get ideas off the ground

On the strength of a neighbor’s recommendation, Jieyi Xu traveled from Shanghai, China, to the Henry W. Bloch School of Business and Public Administration and its Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (IEI) to follow her dream. That is exactly the kind of risk-taking that is rewarded when students connect with IEI, take advantage of available opportunities and remain focused on their goals.

"IEI inspires and nurtures entrepreneurs and innovators through transformational education and research, regardless of discipline, whether they are starting a company or innovating from within an organization," says Michael Song, executive director of the Institute.

Now in its fifth year, IEI serves UMKC students from every discipline, who are interested in entrepreneurship. With guidance from 10 full-time faculty and eight Institute Teaching Fellows - who are successful entrepreneurs in their own right - students have started more than 50 ventures - some with seed money from the Regnier Family Foundation's Venture Creation Challenge (VCC).

Also, in recognition of the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation, the UMKC Alumni Governing Board partnered with IEI to establish an Alumni Association Venture Support Program - one of the first student venture funding programs in the U.S.

Regnier Family Foundation's VCC provides launch packages

The VCC is an annual competition – also sponsored by IEI - where new business concepts are unveiled and evaluated. To qualify, contestants use best practices including devising sound business plans and consulting with investors. Five winners receive launch packages worth $15,000 that include legal, accounting and capital assets.

Derek Hoy and his college friends used to dream up crazy things to try. Thanks to VCC, Hoy took one of his ideas to a more serious level. A Bloch Master of Business Administration and electrical engineering student, he devised a drink cooler that – with remote instruction – tosses out a beverage. Using the 2010 VCC prize package for marketing, Hoy will soon see his "Shoot-A-Brew" cooler tossing drinks at tailgate parties.

"Exposure through IEI and the VCC gave me the confidence to test my ideas and move forward," said Hoy.

Executive MBA studies lead to business plan, job creation

Sphere 3 is Kourtney Govro's brainchild, which came together during her time in the UMKC Bloch School's Executive MBA program. It combines a business process with software application to help healthcare organizations analyze current workflow and obtain consistent, effective and measurable results.

Govro created the business plan to satisfy a course requirement and used VCC to launch her business.

"The program provides real world experience in a safe environment," said Govro. "The Venture Creation Challenge allows you to present a business plan and experience real venture capitalist questions, but also they share some of their thought processes. This was an invaluable experience."

Today, Sphere 3 is experiencing huge growth, with six licensed resellers in Kansas City, St. Louis, Houston, Denver, Phoenix and San Diego, with plans to add three or four in the next few months.

Adapting to the market

Some entrepreneurs like Royce Jackson of Sable Dame Apparel Co., have adapted their businesses to stay relevant. Jackson, a Bloch School Master of Public Administration graduate, added nail and skin care products and services to her line of trendy T-shirts styled primarily for women of color.

"I feel like I'm part of an enduring legacy of entrepreneurship at UMKC," Jackson said. "I've gone from office space to a store front, hired two interns from UMKC and am poised to open Mocha j. Nail Parlour, where Sable Dame fashions will be carried."

Working on an idea they first discussed in high school, art student Brendan O’Shaughnessy and business major Chad Owen started Lovesick Clothing – a T-shirt company with Christian-themed slogans and images.

Owen said that IEI helped them refine their thinking and clarify their purpose. O’Shaughnessy – now sole proprietor – maintains an online Lovesick Clothing store.

"Lovesick Clothing is proud to support and align itself with this amazing organization and all the help IEI has given us," said O'Shaughnessy on his Web site.

Prototype competition

In 2010, the VCC introduced a prototype showcase. Thirteen student teams presented actual product prototypes, and three were winners – MaceTrace, a self-defense item that holds – along with the usual pepper spray – a GPS device, a camera and a 911 alert; TwisterPaint, a tool that mixes and cleans previously used paint rollers; and Lil Lips, a lip balm for babies.

Jieyi Xu summed up the IEI experience.

"The faculty and staff of IEI helped me overcome my fears and realize what kind of person I am," she said. "It doesn't matter if you're majoring in business or not. Everyone can benefit from learning to think like an entrepreneur."

Posted: August 16, 2010

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"The program provides real world experience in a safe environment. The Venture Creation Challenge allows you to present a business plan and experience real venture capitalist questions, but also they share some of their thought processes. This was an invaluable experience."

Kourtney Govro
Bloch School Executive MBA graduate

Kourtney Govro talks about her business, Sphere 3, during a student entrepreneur expo at the Bloch School.

School of Pharmacy students entered the Venture Creation Challenge with SmartPharm, a system that provides comprehensive pharmacy services via Web.

The TwisterPaint prototype is a mixing tool and cleaning aid for the cleaning and drying process of previously used paint-rollers.