Pacific Lutheran University students in an introductory business course get hands-on experience from the BizVenture competition. Teams spend the semester creating business plans. On BizVenture day, they run their businesses on PLU’s campus for four hours. The team with the most revenue earns the right to donate class profits to its charity of choice.
Assistant Professor Matt Luth designed BizVenture in fall 2012 for Business 201, Introduction to Business in the Global Environment. “[Students] are responsible for every aspect from planning to implementation of that business,” Luth said. “They’re in charge of designing a product, they are in charge of developing a marketing plan for that product, and they are responsible for determining how they will manage their group on that project.”
BizVenture was inspired by the reality show, “The Apprentice,” where contestants compete in a series of business challenges to earn a job with Donald Trump. “I thought, ‘What a fantastic way to capture all the key components of business,’” Luth said. “How cool would this be if we could do something like this on campus with college students?”
Teams have just four hours on BizVenture day to generate revenue. Out of the 25 teams that participated in BizVenture so far, 24 of them have made a profit. Luth said students have marketed snack foods, PLU paraphernalia, photo booths and musical performances.
“I think in total we’re at about $9,000 we’ve donated to charity over the last two-and-a-half years,” Luth said.
But BizVenture is not just an exercise in supporting charities–it’s a competition. The team that makes the most money decides which charity will receive the class revenue.
“The groups that do the best, almost universally …are the ones that are able to integrate their product and the way they market it with their charity,” Luth said.
A group from Luth’s spring 2014 class, Team Consonants, did particularly well at integrating their product and charity.
Team Consonants, so named because its team members’ names begin with consonants, sold T-shirts to benefit an Oso mudslide relief fund.
“We knew that everyone else was doing baked goods,” Team Consonants member Kelli Bumgardner said, “and we had heard that teams in previous years had done T-shirts and that they had done well.”
Bumgardner, a junior studying human resources and management, said her team saw an opportunity to support relief efforts for the recent Oso mudslide. “We could raise awareness for it and relate it to Lutes,” she said, “so we designed a logo together.”
The Oso mudslide relief T-shirts featured the outline of Washington State with a heart over the town of Oso and the words “Lutes support Oso.”
Bumgardner said some of her teammates wanted to include a picture of a mountain on the T-shirt design, but she thought it would be in poor taste. “You don’t put a mountain on something related to a mudslide,” Bumgardner said.
Once Team Consonants agreed on the logo, they began making T-shirts. “We had to iron our logo on. We didn’t have a company make the shirts for us,” Bumgardner said. This approach helped Team Consonants keep its costs low.
On BizVenture day, most teams set up tables in the Anderson University Center and compete for attention of passers-by. But Bumgardner and her teammates were proactive. “I wore one of the T-shirts that we were selling,” Bumgardner said. “We were just all over campus trying to get donations and selling the shirts.”
Team Consonants was strategic about where to direct its efforts. “We targeted faculty because we figured that a lot of students wouldn’t have $20 on them,” Bumgardner said.“We thought that they [faculty] would care about the cause … we went into every single building and we went into their offices if their doors were open.”
Team Consonants raised $1,100 for Oso relief. As a reward for earning the most money, Team Consonants was able to donate the entire class revenue–$1,800–to Oso relief.
Bumgardner was grateful for the BizVenture experience. “I really liked actually competing and being able to start up your own little mini business,” she said. “It’s not only doing the actual BizVenture day … You have to write out a business plan … You have to come together as a team and work together as a group.”
Bumgardner said the competitive project helped bring class concepts to life. “This class is what made me want to be a business major,” she said.
The hands-on education is exactly what Luth was aiming for. “One of the things I was trying to do with 201 was to make it a more engaging experience. To make it more meaningful for students so that it wasn’t a class about memorizing a 700-page intro to business book,” he said.
The PLU campus environment is part of BizVenture’s success. “Because PLU is such a small, tight-knit community,” Luth said. “I think that really helps students actually make those sales and make those connections.”
Business 201 and BizVenture set the foundation for future coursework in the School of Business. “It’s about the relationships you have. It’s about the networks you build. You can’t just design a product and think it’ll stand on its own merits–you have to go do work,” Luth said, “It’s fun and at the same time is a valuable and invaluable learning experience.”
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