When a Millikin University student enters B.J. Warren’s entrepreneurship classroom, they’re essentially leaving any age-related excuses behind. The fact that they’re still in the process of learning is not a satisfactory explanation for failure.
When students create their own business, hosted at downtown Decatur’s Blue Connection basement studio, it’s expected they will find a way to make it work. And yet, “business creation” isn’t the biggest lesson that the BC Studios class is meant to teach.
“The biggest thing for our students isn’t necessarily learning how to start a business but developing an ownership mentality of their work and their careers,” said Warren, the faculty advisor for nine businesses based out of the Blue Connection studios this spring. “They’re learning how to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.”
These opportunities are as varied as the students themselves. Spring 2013 businesses for the class include everything from repurposed artwork made from functional items to video conferencing services, website design and disc golf equipment. The most successful businesses are typically the ones that mean something personal to the owner, according to Warren.
“The ones that are most successful are based on a personal interest or passion,” he said. “In terms of the revenue they generate it’s very noticeable.”
Sometimes, this personal interest takes the form of family collaboration. One student, Briana Stephens, has teamed up with her grandfather, Decatur resident Richard Moore, to sell the custom-made cigar box guitars he has been making for several years.
“I’m basically his marketer,” said Moore, a junior entrepreneurship major and Macon native. “He had been making them as a hobby and giving them as gifts, and once I got into the class I realized it could be a marketable item and a chance for us to work together.”
Moore uses cigar boxes scavenged or brought to him by clients to make the body and resonating chamber of each guitar, building on a hand-crafted neck, frets and pick-up to make a fully functional and electrified instrument that sells for around $100. They’ll soon be available at local shops like Earthen Pottery and Goodfellas Fine Cigars.
“They sound pretty great, actually,” Stephens said. “You can see videos of similar guitars all over YouTube. They produce a kind of scratchy sound that is great for blues music.”
Other students in the class such as Kollin Haws create their own products to sell. As the operator of “Kollin’s Kandles,” Haws uses locally sourced wax and fragrances from Decatur’s Mari-Mann Herb Co. to make a variety of candles with scents such as apple cinnamon, jasmine, sandalwood and vanilla.
“They’re made from soy wax as a nod to Decatur,” Haws said. “I melt it down myself and mix in the fragrance from aromatic extracts. I did some research on the most popular candle scents and then did my own testing of the available fragrances before deciding which kinds to make.”
In order to gain a spot in the class, students have to make their pitches to a council of “faculty lenders,” who award them start-up funds that they must then recoup through sales.
“I started by identifying my customer, the local Decaturite who sympathizes with organic and all-natural products,” Haws said. “So far, I’ve sold most of them at BC Studios events, but I also opened an online Etsy shop the other day to sell them there, as well.”
No matter what they’re selling, the students agree that they’re learning valuable business lessons.
“It gives a realistic idea of what it will be like to run a business,” Stephens said. “I’m still unsure of how I want to use these skills in the future, but I’m getting the tools.”
Haws, meanwhile, intends to bring the skills he gains here back to his own family’s business.
“My family owns a local small business, Audibel Hearing Aids, so after I graduate I’m going to be working with my dad there,” he said. “I really want to take over the family business, and I think it ties in really well to the skills I’m learning here.”
All BC Studios students will be present at the Blue Connection during First Friday Gallery Walks on April 5 and May 3.