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Sharks Welcome Here

A report from the Kauffman Foundation has Wisconsin last among states – 50 out of 50 – in environment and climate for entrepreneurship. The Schneider School is taking steps to improve this ranking, expanding its entrepreneurial mission to provide a conduit for start-ups. The new “Shark Tank”-inspired elevator-pitch contest, spearheaded by Joy Pahl (Business Administration) and open to any student with a product or service, is just one outcome.

“If there is one thing about being young, you have all kinds of ideas. Some of them are pretty good,” says Kevin Quinn, dean of the business school. “If we don’t provide a pathway for young people to pursue opportunities, they are going to leave. They are leaving for Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco, Austin and Boston. They are leaving for all these places where they can find the infrastructure they need to become entrepreneurial. [Here,] we’ve been talking to the county about creating spaces on campus. The St. Norbert campus is a great place to trade ideas,” he says. “We are blessed with this incredible physical plant for people to take ideas and do something with them.”

When Patricia Schneider provided the gift to fund the business school that bears its name, it also funded three elements that have elevated its business programs, says Quinn: the Center for Business & Economic Analysis; a business ethics program; an entrepreneurship initiative. The goal is to connect with area business leaders to develop mentorships and secure investments in student-driven products and services.

There are venture capitalists and angel investors in northeast Wisconsin with money, says Quinn. “There have been mentorships and there is clear indication that financial support is coming if we ask for it,” he says. “My conversations with business leaders have been very positive. They are looking for ways to support young people. They recognize that if they are going to be able to hire smart, young, enterprising people to work in their organizations, we better create a culture of supporting ideas and supporting risk-taking.”

Good business ideas can always be found on campus. “I just finished teaching an MBA class, an elective in entrepreneurship,” says Pahl. “We had four teams give their pitches of four different business ideas. One is pretty far along. The four pitches were all feasible business ideas and that came out of a five-week class.”

Return on investment
Entrepreneurial education extends to investors, too. 

“We need to educate the people who have money about what kinds of risks are worth taking. A lot of money that exists here is money that was made the old-fashioned way; they earned it, saved it and took care of it,” explains Kevin Quinn. “Changing to a mindset where they are willing to be in on 100 things and have three of them hit it big is tough. I would like for St. Norbert and the Schneider School to be a catalyst to get people speaking the same language about investment opportunities.”

Already, business- school faculty and students have become more involved in the local business community through their presence at events. “We buy a table. I invite our students and faculty. They get to know people. They see former students. We start to become more integrated into the fabric of the business community, which is my goal.”

Nov. 14, 2016