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ISSUE 117 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/30/2004

Event showcases business-savvy achievements

By Cate Grochala
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 30, 2004

While many St. Olaf students may consider entering a business-related field after graduation, other St. Olaf students have already started their own businesses. On Friday, April 23, students were given the chance to display their business offerings in the Buntrock Crossroads as part of the annual Finstad Trade Show.

The show was held to give students receiving a Finstad grant an opportunity to show their businesses to the public and gain exposure for their work, as well as to increase awareness of the Finstad grant program on campus.

The show marked the end of Entrepreneurship Week at St. Olaf, sponsored by the Center for Experiential Learning (CEL).

Rhonda Rekstad, director of the Finstad Office of Entrepreneurial Studies, stressed that entrepreneurship is "not only about starting a business," but also "learning to create a clear idea and plan of action out of ambiguity."

Entrepreneurship, she said, is about taking initiative and learning how to market ones self in order to achieve ones career goals. This perspective on the diversity of entrepreneurship opportunities was apparent in the large variety of business types represented at the Finstad Trade show.

Some of the businesses created cater specifically to St. Olaf students on campus. Phillip Branson 05 and Gwen Hazelwigg 04 run Texts-4Cheap, a nonprofit company that purchases textbooks from students at the beginning and end of each semester, giving them an average of $15 more than they would receive selling their textbooks back to the St. Olaf Bookstore.

Additionally, students buying a textbook from the company purchase books from Texts4Cheap an average of $15 less than bookstore prices.

According to Branson, the chance to operate a business with a Finstad grant has been a helpful learning experience.

"Weve gotten a chance to succeed and fail," Branson said. "Weve learned what works and what doesnt. Its been a good learning experience."

Other student businesses represented at the trade show stemmed from the students personal interests.

Liz Wagner 04 used a grant to start a graphic design business two and a half years ago, creating customized memory books. She said that she has learned a lot from creating her own business.

"The most challenging thing is learning to do things you might not enjoy at first," Wagner said. "Selling your work sometimes is hard."

Blake Olson 04, founder of Stoneware by Blake, also started because of his enjoyment of pottery and ceramics classes, which led to the creation of his own pottery-selling business a year and a half ago.

He said that one of the most important things in learning about his products is the distinction between his artistic interests and the functionality of his creations.

"Right now Im more personally interested on the embellishments I can add to the pottery, which doesnt necessarily make it function better but improves the artistic design," Olson said. "The important thing for me is to find a balance between these two goals: what I would like to express and creating something that will work well for a customer."

Other students mixed personal interest with international connections. For Michelle Eng 04, her business, Cachitos Mexican Imports, is a way to celebrate her Mexican heritage. She travels to Mexico and gathers a variety of handmade goods from local artisans, and then sells them in the United States upon her return.

She said that her work gives her a chance to "share [her] culture" as well as to dispel "stereotypes that others may have of Mexican culture."

She also shares half of her profits with an orphanage in Cuernavaca, Mexico. After graduation, Eng hopes to continue Cachitos alongside other employment.

The Finstad Program for Entrepre-neurial Studies was founded at St. Olaf in 1992 from a donation by Paul Finstad 51. In addition to the Finstad grants, the program offers classes in entrepreneurial studies.

Students may apply for a grant to start their own business at any point during their time at St. Olaf; there is no specific requirement to the type of business. The only requirement is that the student articulate and explain his or her plans, filling out both a written application and business plan, and meet with a designated panel. The grants are renewable throughout the students enrollment at St. Olaf.

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