Students learn how to succeed in business by really trying
UIC students aren’t learning about successful business ventures by sitting in a classroom. They’re starting their own.
“This is definitely a class with real-life applicable learning,” said Haley Hoffman, a student in Entrepreneurship 300, a course offered in the College of Business Administration.
“It’s completely hands-on,” said Hoffman, a student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Hoffman and three classmates started Bath Füze. They package and sell homemade bath bombs — a combination of ingredients including essential oils, Epsom salt, baking soda and food coloring — that fizz in bath water.
The students are learning what it’s like to start a business from the ground up in 12 weeks.
“It was really hard,” said Jeff Yang, one of six co-creators of Pixel Perfect, a photo booth that takes professional and casual shots with props.
“In the beginning we thought this was going to be really easy, a piece of cake, and then we started buying and putting things together for the business and we realized it was a lot more work than we thought it would be,” said Isabella Koeck, one of two photographers for the business.
And rightfully so, said Dale Lichtenstein, adjunct professor of managerial studies who teaches the course.
“I want them to feel uncomfortable. I want them to feel unsure of themselves, like they’re lost, and that’s all purposely done because they can’t learn how to do this any other way. You can’t learn this from a book — you learn this by doing it.”
Lichtenstein starts by splitting the class into groups of four to six. Each group must come up with ideas for a business in the first six weeks of class. He gives students guidance and in-class exercises to help refine their missions, strategies, price points and target markets. He also asks them to come up with back-up plans, because “a lot more goes wrong than goes right initially.”
Students invest their own money and operate their businesses during class time on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“They learn how difficult it is to start a simple, basic business,” Lichtenstein said.
The student creators of Cake Holes, which makes cake pops, said coming up with the business idea wasn’t hard, but managing it was.
Thach Mai, a senior in economics, said he didn’t realize how great the initial time commitment would be. “I took on the responsibility of the entire making and baking process, coating them in chocolate and packaging them, and that took up way too much time,” he said.
Mai and his group learned from the experience and divided the work among the group. Now their pops are making profits.
“We probably make 140 to 150 cake pops for the week,” Mai said. “And we sell out every day,” added team member Ryan Nolan, a business major.
Lichtenstein, who also teaches in MBA programs at Vietnam National University and the Shenyang University of Technology in China, knows the problems of running a business from personal experience. He took over his father’s company, LENZIP Manufacturing Corp., and served as president for 10 years before starting his own firm, Clientbuilders Inc. In 2002 he founded BodyTeq Apparel and has been its president for 13 years.
He says he’s proud of what his students have accomplished this semester.
“The students’ products are really good. They’re all very creative and they’re really high-quality,” he said.