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Bradley Hilltopics

Fall 2004 • Volume 10, Issue 4

A major interest in entrepreneurship

  Dr. Fred Fry should have been in sales. Never mind; he already is. Fry sells his students on their entrepreneurial potential. He sells small business owners on ways to capitalize on growth opportunities. He sold Bradley University on the need for an undergraduate major in entrepreneurship. And to top it off, he sold a growing audience on the fact that Bradley has one of the best programs in the country. His commissions? Just miles of smiles, particularly his own, upon learning this year that Bradley University had been named one of Entrepreneur magazine’s top 10 programs for schools with an entrepreneurial emphasis. And the Bradley professor of business administration will achieve a longtime dream when the new entrepreneurship major becomes reality this fall.

Fry offered the first small business management course in 1986 and soon added an entrepreneurship course.

Fry offered the first small business management course in 1986 and soon added an entrepreneurship course. During the 1990s, he added an entrepreneurial finance class with the help of the finance department. Then by utilizing existing courses in human resource management and marketing, he built a concentration in entrepreneurship within the management major. Interest in the concentration began to grow. Another new course, technology entrepreneurship, was added to meet the needs of both business and engineering students who had a desire to create new products and bring them to the market. It became evident in 2003 that there was enough interest to justify a full major in entrepreneurship.

Dr. Fred Fry“The demand for entrepreneurship continues to grow,” says Fry. “We were seeing this increase in the number of students selecting the entrepreneurship concentration. The number of students jumped from the teens one year to the mid-twenties to over 30 and, most recently, to nearly 60 students. We don’t know for sure whether we have an interesting spike, an aberration, or a real trend going.”

Many colleges offer some type of entrepreneurship program. Some offer a single course, some have a certificate program, some offer a concentration, and a few like Bradley offer a full major in entrepreneurship. The growth in student numbers and course offerings has not gone unnoticed. In 2003, Entrepreneur magazine ranked Bradley’s program in the top tier of schools with limited programs. In 2004, it was ranked in the top 10 among schools with an entrepreneurial emphasis. Bradley also was a finalist in program quality as determined by the U.S. Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, an academic association focusing on entrepreneurship education.

Bradley recently has been recommended to sponsor the Journal of Small Business Strategy for the next five years. The journal is a publication of the Small Business Institute, a national academic organization for small business and entrepreneurship. Bradley’s responsibility includes all aspects of editing and publishing the journal. Fry will be the editor.

Alum offers advice

  Karen Rekowski Blair ’87, who owns a Culver’s restaurant franchise in South Elgin with her husband Christopher, her brother-in-law, and his wife, is among the alumni who were enthused to learn an entrepreneurship major was being planned. Blair learned about it at an alumni event in Chicago. “Sirens went off, lights flashed, lightning bolts came down, I got all excited about it,” she says, adding she offered her assistance.

The new entrepreneurship major offers students a unique insight into the “big picture” of how business works, along with the nuts and bolts of starting a business. Blair comments, “Back when I was a student, I would have loved to have had that opportunity. I was heavily involved at Bradley, being the all-school president, so I saw a lot of different facets of the University that most people didn’t get a chance to see.” She remembers meeting the CEO of AT&T and other influential people from the business world. “It helped me to understand that it’s a big world out there, but you can take a piece; you can take a bite out of it. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I have an idea. Where do I go from here?’ I think that is where most people struggle … It’s essential to have the courage to step out and say, ‘I want to figure out how to make this product or provide this service. How do I do that?’ ”

Looking at her own entrepreneurial experience, Blair tells how she and her husband explored various opportunities before going the Culver’s route. The restaurant celebrated its first anniversary in July 2004. This is their first “leap of faith.” They intend to own several franchises in the coming years. The biggest lesson the couple has learned this first year is managing time and family.

Nine-year-old son Beck is right there with Mom and Dad at the business. “There’s nothing he doesn’t do. He’ll work the register, the drive-through, clean, plant flowers. He’s part of our team. He’s been a part of this business venture as much as anybody. He’s been in on the decisions, too. Sometimes the insight he brings to customer service and employee relations are wonderful. It’s been invaluable for him to understand people through customer service.”

Blair comments, “Relationships, relationships, relationships. People are incredibly important, in both personal and business relationships.

Blair comments, “Relationships, relationships, relationships. People are incredibly important, in both personal and business relationships. Business relationships make your opportunities exist. Always be open to ideas. There’s no bad idea. It’s just a question of how you manage it. Rely on others, and trust and respect others to bring their talents to the table.”

She adds, “A lot of the leadership opportunities and programs I had at Bradley helped me tremendously. You have to have the confidence in yourself to ask the questions and open the doors. You also have to ask yourself, ‘What is it that you desire most and what makes you happy?’ Such a small percentage of people in this world find something they can make a living at and enjoy. Identify your strengths as an individual and where your interests lie and then develop a product or service that you’re just going to love doing.”

Blair says that if she could teach a class for entrepreneurship students, it would be a personal development class “that would help students to recognize that when one door shuts, it’s not necessarily over.”

Students share enthusiasm

Fry praises students who are sharp, know what they want to do, and share their enthusiasm both in and out of the classroom. One of these students is Shafondra Matthews ’04. She brings a passion for learning to class every day as she prepares to graduate in December. Family encouragement and what she’s discovered at Bradley have influenced her decision to explore business, especially entrepreneurship. Matthews loves the dynamics that would be involved in owning a business. She knows she’s an individual who needs a certain amount of freedom and independence. “I’m the type of person who follows the rules, but …,” she says, “I’ve learned so much. It’s a great personal reward, knowing you have the tools to do it by yourself. I’ve learned that the days are long and the nights of sleep are short. But it’s all for me.”

Mark Wolff ’03 also sees an entrepreneurial venture in his career. He earned a degree in management with a concentration in entrepreneurship and is working on his MBA with concentration in finance.

He says, “I thought this might be the best way for me to prepare for what I need to do in my career before opening my own business.” No one in his family has gone this route, but he was inspired by a Bradley alumnus for whom he worked, a mentor who told him to go to graduate school. “The way he had learned, through his life experiences by owning his own business, inspired me to look into it.”

Wolff says his entrepreneurship classes are a good foundation as he looks to eventually opening his own business.

Wolff says his entrepreneurship classes are a good foundation as he looks to eventually opening his own business. “I had set my goals earlier for opening a business, but I’ve been taught realistically how to do it, how to get some experience, capital, connections, and then find the opportunity at the right time.”

Two of the lessons Wolff picked up in his entrepreneurship classes were how to put a business plan into place and how difficult financing can be. “Dr. Fry brought in a venture capitalist who talked about how he approves or denies people. He reads the first four lines of an e-mail. If it doesn’t strike him, he deletes it. It’s good to know those kinds of things. Dr. Fry brought a lot of knowledge from the community into the classroom.”

Wolff also joined the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization, cleverly known as CEO, to connect with students with entrepreneurial goals. The quality of the entrepreneurship program is reflected in the student chapter, as well. Bradley’s chapter won two awards at the national CEO convention in 2004.

Fry says working with students like Matthews and Wolff who someday will have their own businesses makes teaching entrepreneurship a joy. He concludes, “Teaching students they have to work hard, do their research, network, and be creative in fundraising makes you want the future to hurry up and get here so you can see what kind of businesses they start a few years after graduating.”