A Senior Business Class That Gets Real


In the fall of 2004, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with our senior business majors, many of whom had seemingly already checked out of college. These were not the same junior business majors who regularly came to class with enthusiasm and anticipation. As the primary faculty member for Business Strategy, the final class that senior business majors take, I was ready to try a new approach. I had heard about some colleges requiring business students to start their own businesses. Frankly this held great appeal because I believe one way to effectively teach students is to integrate real-life experiences into the classroom. So I decided to divide the class into teams (5-7 students) and required each team to literally start their own business.

The central idea of the class is to simulate a real start-up business. We ask students to apply what they have learned in their previous management, accounting, marketing, economics and finance courses through the formation and operation of an actual business. Each team is given $750 (which must be paid back) as venture capital money. Probably the hardest part of the class is for students to identify a viable business idea.

Over the past seven years most businesses have made money. Last year, we had 11 teams that realized a net income (after expenses and paying back the $750 start-up money) of more than $13,500.

Since the program’s inception students have developed more than 50 businesses. These have included a maple syrup company with imported Vermont maple syrup, beautifully designed customized T-shirts, a home cleaning service and a not-for-profit event planning company that contributed its entire net income to another not-for-profit company that specializes in digging fresh water wells in Ethiopia. Today there is fresh water well in Ethiopia with the team’s name on the well. Other businesses included a Saturday Market, a marketing consulting business and a business that packaged and distributed locally grown Oregon hazelnuts.

Students are asked to maintain an informal record of their key learning moments throughout the two semesters. Students generally are quite honest about their experiences. The student learning is genuine, at times painful and always realistic.

Dirk Barram
Dean, School of Business