More than 100 first-year students representing 34 majors got a head start on their college careers this week by attending Freshman Innovation Immersion, an annual program by the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship.
During the two-day workshop, held at the Iversen Center for Faith, students learned the basic principles of entrepreneurship and collaborated in teams to come up with a business concept. They developed poster boards for their concepts, which they then pitched to volunteer mentors from the community as part of a pitch competition for prize money.
Beyond the awards, students said that the Freshman Innovation Immersion workshop taught them skills that they will take throughout their college careers and beyond.
“I felt like [the second day of the workshop] was all about not only building confidence in what you’re selling as an entrepreneur, but building confidence in yourself and your ideas, and being able to sell your ideas to a group of people,” first-year student Tim Volkov said.
Volkov was part of a group that came up with a concept for an app that they named Jrgn. The app would help international students acclimate to the culture and understand slang as well as what students like to talk about, in order to minimize culture shock.
“Individuality and intersectionality are important, as is having them a part of our community,” said first-year student Sam Dean, a member of the group with Volkov. “We want them to feel welcomed and not pull back if they don’t understand what we’re talking about.”
Professor Jay Ebben of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship led an exercise on the first afternoon of the workshop, “100 Days of Failure,” designed to show students how terrible business ideas can be flipped to become good ones.
“For most of us, we don’t really like the idea of failing and being rejected, yet the only way to really get anywhere in life is to try things that are new,” Ebben said. “We’re trying to bring a perspective to students around not thinking about things in terms of success and failure, but in terms of how one experiments, learns and grows.”
An example of an idea destined for failure that Ebben shared was horrible tasting toothpaste. Turned on its head, he suggested that a possible successful offering could be a toothpaste product that delivers different bursts of flavors.
“At St. Thomas, we want to make sure that all students come out with that entrepreneurial mindset, willing to tackle big challenges in whatever field they’re in and bring some creative thinking to it,” she said. “Entrepreneurship is a process, a set of skills, a mindset that can help you be better at whatever you’re doing and help you to become a person of greater impact.”
Many of the workshop attendees already had operated a business before starting at St. Thomas, from entrepreneurship major John Costello’s used office cubicle store to entrepreneurship and marketing major Leah Schuerkamp’s social media marketing firm.
For the volunteer mentors, Freshman Innovation Immersion was an opportunity to give back.
“I love the passion and the enthusiasm [of the students],” Jeff Mattson ’85 MBA said. “Compared to a typical sales meeting with breakout sessions for salespeople, the passion and enthusiasm here is double. These students are committed to being engaged.”