Staff Writer

Education and family reporter for the Herald & Review.

DECATUR — While looking around for ideas for a startup business, Bryce Kapitzky had a realization: A lot of businesses have unfinished projects because they can't spare employees' time to finish them.

Kapitzky, a junior business management major at Millikin University, envisioned a pool of college students with the skills and time to work temporarily at such businesses to help them clear out backlogged work.

He was part of a group of students that pitched the idea for “BluePoint Connection” at Millikin's Launch Weekend in the fall semester. A second Launch Weekend is planned Feb. 16 to 18.

“Honestly, when starting this project, I wasn't expecting it to be something I would be working on for months,” said Laura Nearing, who was part of the group who presented the pitch. “When we won first place at the (fall) competition, I realized that we may actually be on to something.

"Since then, I've become so invested and excited about this idea, that I can see myself working on it for as long as it lasts.”

As a full-time student, Nearing said, she doesn't have the time to commit to a long-term job, so short-term employment is a way for her and other students to earn some money and make contacts among businesses in the community.

Kapitzky said other pluses to the model are that businesses can draw on the fresh skills of students, and the students have a chance to put those skills into practice and gain experience.

Businesses will be able to sign up on the website for a fee, and students will sign up to be in a pool of potential workers, he said. As the winning pitch, BluePoint Connection received a $1,700 grant.

“They won seed capital that is managed out of the center, so we don't hand them a check and say good luck,” said Julie Shields, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship. “We help them through the process, because something you come up with in a day probably is not the end-all be-all. You can have a great idea but haven't done the market testing.”

The seed capital was provided by Larry D. and Ann Geddes Haab, who created an endowment specifically to help students launch businesses. The students who receive the grants are required to give something back, whether that's a donation from their profits or mentoring another student.

The fall Launch Weekend was the first such event at Millikin, though the university has hosted Startup Weekends in the past. Those were part of a larger organization and open to the public.

Launch Weekend is just for Millikin students and uses the toolkit developed by the Center for Entrepreneurship, which guides students through the whole process of creating a business, from brainstorming ideas to figuring out what to do about accounting and taxes, Shields said.

Only about half of the students who participated in the fall and are expected to participate in the upcoming Launch Weekend are business majors, Shields said. Students from a variety of disciplines can benefit from learning the processes of business, because the roots of it are teamwork, brainstorming, problem-solving and creativity.

The students are fellows of the Agile Business Consortium. Agile is a project management module that is specific about how to activate ideas and plan ahead for this week, this month and beyond, Shields said.

“In Agile, you don't know if (your business) is going to be around for three weeks,” she said. “It's a tool, and students are helping other students learn it. It lets them fail without feeling the whole world is ending.

"To some degree, you want to fail fast (if you're going to fail), so you can clear the scrum board off and start something completely different.”

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