May 26, 2009
Student business plans aid real-world entrepreneurs
It's a tried and true principle that applies to virtually any business, from shoe-string start-ups to multinational corporations. If you want to succeed, you've got to have a plan.
Coming up with that plan -- actually several plans for a variety of enterprises in the northwest Missouri community of Mound City -- was exactly the task that Brett Ware, an entrepreneurship instructor at Northwest Missouri State University, had in mind for a group of 39 students during the spring 2009 trimester.
Now Ware -- together with Dr. Tom Billesbach, dean of Northwest's Booth College of Business and Professional Studies; Mound City business leaders, including car dealership owner Joe Laukemper; and Frank Veeman of the Northwest Small Business Technology and Development Center -- are hoping those plans will become a new economic reality.
Ware said Mound City, which has population of about 1,500, has great potential for a planned expansion of entrepreneurial activity. A big part of that potential, he said, is its location along I-29 less than two hours south of Omaha, Neb., and only a few miles from the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, a 7,300-acre preserve along the eastern edge of the Missouri River floodplain.
The refuge, which Ware said draws 300,000 people a year, is a popular destination for bird watchers and other tourists, and is especially noted for its large concentrations of waterfowl and bald eagles. In addition, the area provides some of the best duck and goose hunting in the United States.
Ware said the business plan project began in fall 2008 when Northwest broached the idea with Mound City business leaders, a dialog that grew out of the University's commitment to the development of regional leadership and economic growth.
"Dr Billesbach has been trying to create more ways for the University, in concert with the Northwest Small Business and Technology Development, to help our area communities create and grow small businesses," Ware said. "I teach courses in entrepreneurship, and we decided that our students should focus on this for a trimester, and possibly more."
Textbook to reality
The idea, Ware said, was for the students to evaluate opportunities available to local entrepreneurs and to create business plans based on their findings. Following this process, the students shared their plans with Mound City business leaders interested in using the research to found new enterprises.
Laukemper, a 40-year veteran of the business world and owner of Laukemper Motors, said he was impressed with the student plans, and that Ware's classroom project had proven it was possible to "close the gap between textbook and reality."
Of the plans he reviewed, Laukemper said several displayed "excellence" and had a good chance of success if undertaken by an entrepreneur with sufficient commitment and "passion."
"Our hope is to plant seeds for future businesses and to encourage economic growth," Ware said. "That can involve capital and other resources, and the nice thing about Mound City is that they have a for-profit economic development corporation that is a perfect match for this kind of effort."
In one instance, the efforts of Northwest students on behalf of the Mound City business community are literally bearing fruit.
It turns out, Ware said, that the farmland surrounding Mound City is ideal for growing grapes. So far, production totals only a few thousand pounds a year, but Mound City grapes have already found a market at the Schilling Bridge Winery and Microbrewery, in Pawnee, Neb., 70 miles to the west. So the question for Ware's students became, "Why not open a winery in Mound City?"
Looking for synergy
"You start by asking what resources do we have for a business?" Ware said. "Well, we found that Squaw Creek draws 300,000 people a year. And then you have the Interstate, which moves approximately 15,000 people a day right past the city limits. Also, there is a large influx of hunters."
After Ware's students had looked closely at their data, they went to work writing a business plan for a winery and microbrewery similar to the Nebraska operation. They also came up with outlines for the creation of spin-off enterprises, including a bed-and-breakfast and cheese manufacturing concern.
The business blueprints, said Ware, combine Mound City's strengths, such as tourism and highway traffic, with inter-business synergy.
"The wine fits in really nice with the microbrewery," he said. "Together with the cheese business, which would include an on-site retail operation and Web- and catalog-based sales, it all helps set the community up as a destination location, a place where people from Kansas City and Omaha and other cities go to 'get away for a while.'"
Additional businesses proposed by Ware's students include an upscale sportsman's lodge -- now actually under construction -- catering to goose and duck hunters, a sporting goods store to be called "Ducks and Bucks" and a non-profit Waterfowl Hall of Fame.
"This is not smoke and mirrors. These are concrete business plans that have a very good opportunity for success," Ware said. "We estimated a three- to five-year payback period -- that's the kind of profit incentive we're looking for."
Even in a down economy, Ware believes his students' research proves that economic growth is possible, even probable, for a small town along the Interstate.
"The numbers say that with the right synergy there is the potential to spawn a number of businesses," he said. "Mound City is a wonderful opportunity right now."
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