Entrepreneur students utilize skills to create new businesses
By Keegan Couillard
Traditionally, North Central University has been known as a ministry preparatory school. The School of Business is challenging that, and has more than doubled in size this past year with the introduction of new majors. Currently, there are about 145 students in business programs including 20 students in the entrepreneurship major. Bill Tibbetts, the director of the school of business, attributes this in part to business and entrepreneurial students being attracted to the city as opposed to other local programs out in the suburbs such as Bethel and Crown College.
With the continued growth of the School of Business, North Central is starting new major programs including marketing and entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurship program is largely taught by Tibbetts as well as Brian Stewart, both of whom have previous business and entrepreneurship experience in organizations of various sizes with different business models.
Tibbetts and Stewart are both excited about the entrepreneur program. “The thing that personally brings life to my soul is when I see a student not distinguish between secular and sacred and they view correctly what they are doing as kingdom work,” Tibbetts said.
The classes to be taught include topics such as marketing, entrepreneurship and small business management and social entrepreneurship and economic development, as well as an entrepreneurship incubator program. North Central has a strategic partnership with Restore Collaborative, a co-working group located in the North Loop, where entrepreneurs can work alongside other like-minded individuals. Entrepreneur students are immersed in this environment and are able to further develop their businesses with mentors. Students have the option to develop their business for the non-profit, for-profit, or social sectors.
Tibbetts said that they strongly believe in the hands on cohort model where students will take the same classes together through the four years of their program. The hope is to create a community among students. Research has shown that entrepreneurs are more successful when they are with other entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneur students “tend to be hyper-practical,” said Tibbetts. “Because of that, it’s challenging us to think of this program in a way that in the future is very hands on.”
Of the students in the program, about half have ideas or are currently running businesses. The other half have not yet decided. Many students are creating product driven businesses, others are working to create businesses that would help them fund non-profit activities such as missions.
Examples of students who have created businesses include Jon Burd, Shayna Fowler, and Seth Barribeau. Around the time of Lego’s resurgence among fans, Burd started Minifigures Plus, a company that sells mini figures (the people figurines in Lego sets). Beginning in May of 2007, Burd started his company at only 12 years old. It started small, buying individual sets of Legos and reselling them piece by piece. The company has since expanded and is now grossing over $1 million each year. Minifigures Plus does most of its business through eBay.
When Burd first started, he would research for hours each day, looking at trends, best products, and selling prices. He initially did this for fun, but he said it was this passion that led him to create Minifigures Plus.
Now a junior entrepreneur student, Burd, while still a full owner, receives help in running the business from both his parents and sister so he can attend school. He is currently working on starting Silex, a bookkeeping and consulting business, with fellow students Eleanor Holm and Ben Murphy.
His advice for people looking to start a business is to create something with as few start-up costs as possible and to take advantage of free business services, such as online programs and advice. “Know that there will always be new challenges, risks, and threats,” Burd said. “You are never free and clear, but that’s what makes business exciting.”
Seth Barribeau, a freshman entrepreneur student, is in the process of developing Kidzips. The idea first came to him and his uncle when he was in his senior year of high school. The company will be selling backpacks that are filled with school supplies to students in elementary, middle, and high school as they go back to school. Instead of having to look through the required material lists needed for class and going out to purchase each item separately, parents can purchase the backpack and have everything they would need.
Barribeau and his uncle will be launching the business this upcoming spring. They hope to partner with schools in the Hennepin, Ramsey, and Anoka county areas and have their product featured so families can be made aware of its offerings. Barribeau is a full-time student and works on his business when he is able to. He said he hopes to grow the business to a stable point where he can use the profits to support his missionary endeavors.
Shayna Fowler, a sophomore transfer student from Ohio, started her business when she was 15. One day, she noticed other female classmates talking about themselves in a self-degrading way on Twitter. This led to her realization that there was a need for students to believe that they are “valuable and lovable.” After talking with her mentor she came to the decision that something needed to change. The Butterfly Project was created with this in mind.
In 2012, the Butterfly Project partnered with Marlene Carson, an authority on human trafficking, and the first school assembly was held. During these assemblies, speakers would share with students that they are someone valuable.
Not long after the first assembly, the phone at Butterfly Project began to ring with other local schools desiring to have the same type of influential events take place at their school. Since then, the Butterfly Project has spoken to thousands of girls in grades 5-12 in Ohio, Michigan, other states, internationally and has even made an appearance on Good Morning America. Furthermore, the group has rescued nine girls from sex trafficking. The company is currently in the stages of transitioning from a team model, where speakers are brought in to each school individually, to a product model, where schools can purchase videos and worksheet materials for their students.
Although she is a sophomore student and has three years left, Fowler said that no matter the age or current situation, students who desire to start a business or organization should not put it off, but that they should start it as soon as they can. “The networking, the resources, and the access to the city that we have, and the people that North Central has partnered with, it’s second to none,” she said. “Nobody else that I know has opportunities like this.”
Both Stewart and Tibbetts say they desire to come alongside students to help them fulfill their purpose in life. Stewart wrote in an email, “I love being a small part in helping students make decisions that have the potential to impact the rest of their lives; and not just their lives, but decisions that further the kingdom of God.”