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ISSUE 118 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/29/2005

Small businesses inspire: Entrepreneurship speakers encourage planning, determination

By Allie Helling
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 29, 2005

The annual Entrepreneurship Week was held on campus last week April 19–21. The week, which brought a variety of speakers and special activities to campus, was co-hosted by St. Olaf’s Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) and Ole Ventures, St. Olaf’s student entrepreneurial organization.

David Rossow ’05, the president of Ole Ventures, said that the series of speakers and events was meant to encourage entrepreneurship on campus. "The week is about discovering the entrepreneur in everyone," he said.

The week began with a well-attended speech from Simon Foster, who started the Minnesota-based business

Foster’s business allows customers in the seven-county metro area of the Twin Cities to buy groceries online and have the groceries delivered to their homes.

"We deliver goods to people who can’t get out of the house or don’t have much time," Foster said.

Foster described his journey as an entrepreneur and offered advice to those considering starting their own businesses. He stressed the importance of planning. "I did lots of research, and found similar companies which had failed," Foster said. "I interviewed previous customers and asked what they had and hadn’t liked."

Foster also emphasized the role determination plays in starting a business. "After six months, I had no money, no team and was no closer to starting my own business," he said. However, he persevered through the troubled time, and was later able to watch his business thrive. "There was a moment I chose to keep going," he said. He mentioned a few ideals that he strives to incorporate into his business every day, including determination, excellence, laughter, integrity and empowerment.

Foster’s speech also addressed the personal changes that accompany starting one’s own business. "Starting a business is more about learning about yourself and life than it ever is about the business," he said.

Mary Henschel ’88, the CEO of Network Arts, spoke on Thursday about her career in the business world. The Twin Cities Business Journal recently named Henschel one of the top 40 business people under the age of 40 in the Twin Cities.

Later on Thursday afternoon, a panel of former Finstad Grant recipients spoke in the Black and Gold Ballroom. The panel was comprised of four recent St. Olaf graduates, each of whom described their experiences as recipients of Finstad Grants while they were attending St. Olaf.

Each alumnae briefly summarized their time as entrepreneurs, and described the skills they gained from the experience.

Eric Palmer ’04, who started his own Web-development company, listed the communication skills he gained as one of the benefits of entrepreneurship.

"Communication is the best thing I’ve gotten from the Finstad experience," Palmer said. "It gave me good communication skills."

Almost all of the alumni speaking also noted the résumé-building aspect of the experience.

Kate Monson ’04, who began a safe house for women in Faribault, said, "It gave me a huge jump in my professional life and opened up employment opportunities."

Palmer agreed with Monson, mentioning the personal employment and educational opportunities the grant gave him.

After the panel presentation, seven current students participated in a competition to win $300 for their potential businesses. Each student had three minutes to present their business ideas to the audience. Students’ ideas ranged from a magazine about college life to a ski academy; the winning idea just as unique. The winner, Jason Bess ’06, proposed Wiffler’s Field, which would be Northfield’s very own wiffle ball stadium.

Entrepreneur in Residence and Director of the Finstad Grant Program John Stull encouraged students to consider starting their own businesses. All St. Olaf students are eligible to apply for Finstad Grants. "Students put together an idea and make a business plan," Stull added. If a student’s idea seems promising and well thought-out, he or she can receive a Finstad Grant, which in the past few years have ranged from $500 to $4,000.

Entrepreneurship Week concluded on Friday, when about 20 Finstad Grant recipients set up tables in Buntrock Plaza and showcased their products. The businesses exemplified the creativity of St. Olaf students and ranged from a manufacturer of jewelry to a video production company.

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