The business world has slowed under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the entrepreneurial drive is speeding up in a new University of Guelph course.
About 60 students in Prof. Felix Arndt’s Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship (MGMT2500) course have started 12 businesses in teams, all currently up and running on Shopify. The start-ups are scheduled to operate through November.
The fundamentals course is the first in the new entrepreneurship minor launched this fall in the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics at U of G. The course gives students practical, real-world experience in how to run a successful business.
“A good entrepreneurship course shouldn’t just be theoretical,” Arndt said. “It’s also about running businesses. All of our students who take the course are, by definition, entrepreneurs because they do have to run a shop. The business idea is totally theirs and they can come up with whatever they think will work.”
The various enterprises launched offer a range of products, from items made from beeswax to novelty bottle openers to foot-pedal hand sanitizer dispensers. Profits will go to support charities chosen by the teams.
“Before I started this business, I thought I knew it all and there wasn’t much to it,” said student Ryan Obonsawin, part of Wild Animal Company. “I was very wrong about that. There is a lot of work to starting a business and getting it off the ground.”
In the weeks before launching the website, Obonsawin said he had many details to sort out.
“The most important learning I’ve had to date is about teamwork. This is a group assignment with people from various backgrounds with varied skills, so we used that to our advantage. We quickly learned that working as a team would ultimately lead to our success.”
Prof. Arndt is the John F. Wood Chair in Entrepreneurship in the Department of Management and holds research positions at the Stockholm School of Economics in Sweden and at the University of Agder in Norway.
He said some students decided to produce their own consumer items, while others sourced products from online providers. In prior courses, Arndt said, he has seen businesses generate anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars within the limited time frame. A few student companies have been sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Kelsey White is part of the Soft as Can Bee business team, which markets handmade soaps and lotion bars made from organic beeswax. From the creation of an online store to setting up a PayPal account, White said, she has learned a lot about what it takes to set up a business.
Like Obonsawin, she said learning to work in a team was an important part of the experience.
“Leading up to launch day, my group spent hours in group communications to ensure that launch day ran smoothly, making sure that all the small moving pieces were moving in the right direction,” White said.
“The most important thing I have learned through this process is the power of networking and marketing products. Just through social media platforms and sharing our products with people already in our network, we were able to gain awareness for our product and generate sales quite early on. This was by far one of the best assignments I have had the chance to complete and have been able to take a lot of real-world experience from.”
Arndt said many of the students started a business based on a long-held idea. The course gave them the nudge they needed.
“When they graduate from this course, they can say that they have run a business,” he said. “I’m very impressed with what they’ve come up with. Take a look yourself. They might help you with your Christmas shopping.”
Links to the businesses: