Wednesday, November 25, 2015

[237] MTSU Entrepreneurship Week offers seeds for growing innovative ideas

High school fair, panels, workshops among activities

MURFREESBORO — MTSU wrapped up its 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Week with a Friday luncheon following a week filled with workshops, panels, lectures and demonstrations aimed at sparking innovative thinking and creativity among the dozens of participants.

One of the new events this year was held midweek in the MTSU Student Union Ballroom where four area schools participated in an entrepreneurship fair for high school students.

Roughly 80 students from Rutherford County’s Central Magnet, Holloway and Siegel high schools and Cheatham County’s Sycamore High School put their minds to work to create business proposals and make pitches to be judged by three MTSU faculty members and three graduate assistants from the Jones College of Business.

Bill McDowell, holder of the Wright Travel Chair of Entrepreneurship in the Jones College and coordinator of the fair, was impressed by the students’ creativity at the fair, which was developed to get students thinking about entrepreneurship before entering college. He reached out to area schools in advance so that students had time to prepare.

“They did phenomenal presentations on the many new venture ideas that they had,” McDowell said. “The students had ideas ranging from arts ideas to sciences to engineering, you name it. It was a great success.”

Central Magnet High School sophomores Chelsey Zhu and Cynthia Yue presented their business idea for Forbidden Cakery, a Chinese dessert truck based on pastries that fused traditional Chinese and Chinese-American tastes — for example, taking traditional Chinese moon cakes and making them Oreo-flavored.

Zhu said she and Yue had been working on the project for a few months, developing the business plan and selecting the right recipes, of which they provided boxed samples at the fair. The hard work paid off, as their display was recognized as best trade show display at the fair.

“I think the entire experience was amazing,” Yue said. “We learned a lot about business and entrepreneurship, especially since we didn’t have a lot of background about this. We researched a lot, actually contacting bakeries to ask them how things worked and how sales were. … I think entrepreneurship is a skill that everyone should have.”

Central Magnet teacher and MTSU alumna Jackie Crawley-Harrison, who teaches accounting and personal finance, accompanied the two students and was beaming with pride as they packed up their display after lunch to head back to Central’s campus.

“These young ladies had a concept and they just ran with it,” said Crawley-Harrison. “They researched everything and came up with an amazing product.”

Crawley-Harrison believes the experience also provided broader benefits.

“I felt like this was a great opportunity for them to learn more about the business (programs) here at MTSU,” she said. “I thought this would be something to broaden their horizons. They’re already excellent students academically, so this was also a good social experience meeting other high school students here.”

McDowell noted that the students also had a chance to see expert presentations and demonstrations on how 3D Printing and unmanned aircraft systems are being used in emerging businesses.

Panel discussions open to the public during the week included looking at the importance of immigrant entrepreneurs in the state and how to commercialize intellectual property.

The week also featured workshops for MTSU students, faculty, staff and the public such as Thursday’s presentation by noted pitch coach Nathan Gold of the Kauffman Foundation about how to give great business presentations and “captivate any audience in 30 seconds.”

Dressed in a gray sport jacket, black mock turtleneck, slacks and sneakers, Gold started out promising the audience inside the State Farm Lecture Hall that he wouldn’t waste their time with a boring PowerPoint or “keynote” address. He then challenged the audience of current or future entrepreneurs of their need to differentiate themselves in a current climate where entrepreneurs are “everywhere.”

“There are thousands of you out there,” he said. “You need to stand out from the crowd, not in a gimmicky way, but in a positive way.”

Gold then spent the next hour explaining how to develop a personal pitch that is clear, memorable and shareable, emphasizing the importance of storytelling — “Our brains are wired for stories.” — and pointing to a variety of TED Talk examples on YouTube that demonstrate different ways to effectively tell a story.

Gold said entrepreneurs need to be able to quickly explain to people who they help, what they do, how they do it and eventually why they do it.

“You really only need one sentence,” Gold said regarding how to explain what you do for a living. “If you can’t get through what you’re doing in one sentence, then you’re wasting people’s time and you sound like everybody else.”

The week’s events were held in conjunction with the annual Global Entrepreneurship Week, an international celebration of innovators and job creators held each November. Sponsors included the Wright Travel Chair of Entrepreneurship, the Jones College of Business, and the Business and Economic Research Center.

To learn more about MTSU entrepreneurship program, visit

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