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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 20, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 18
A Taste of the Business World

Students in Invitation to Entrepreneurship sample Mary Sue Easter eggs, a longtime local delight made by a confectionery that was a case study in their course.

Popular intersession class introduces undergrads to entrepreneurship

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Just months out of the University of Richmond, Bill Buppert glimpsed an opportunity to forgo the corporate ladder and take a confectionary conveyer belt right to the top. The Ruxton, Md., native learned in October 2001 that Naron Mary Sue, the business that had brought together two beloved Baltimore candy companies, had gone bankrupt and was being auctioned — in six days.

The then 23-year-old didn't blink. Buppert readied a business plan, put in the winning bid and took charge of the floundering company. Today, he heads Ruxton Chocolate, LLC, the parent company he founded that now comprises Naron, Mary Sue and Glauber's Fine Chocolates. Talk about a kid in a candy store.

Buppert told his unique, inspirational story last week to more than 200 Johns Hopkins undergraduates who one day hope to follow in his enterprising footsteps. He was a featured speaker for the increasingly popular intersession course Invitation to Entrepreneurship.

The weeklong 1-credit course informs students considering starting their own business — or taking employment in a start-up company — through a collection of talks by successful entrepreneurs and business professionals.

Begun in 1998, the course attracts more students each year. In seven years, enrollment has gone from 25 to 227 — more than 5 percent of the entire Homewood undergraduate class. To accommodate the swelling numbers, the class this intersession moved into the 500-seat Hodson Hall auditorium.

Endowed by a gift from trustee Joseph R. Reynolds Jr. and his wife, Lynn, the course is run by the Whiting School of Engineering's W.P. Carey Program in Entrepreneurship and Management. The primary goal of the Carey program, which offers a business minor, is to provide Hopkins students with the knowledge and skills to become leaders in their fields.

Invitation to Entrepreneurship is open to all undergraduates in the Whiting School and the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

Marybeth Camerer, W.P. Carey Program coordinator, said that she attributes the entrepreneurship course's success to word of mouth and the strength and diversity of the speakers.

"It is also an enjoyable way to spend the week, while at the same time developing career ideas and taking advantage of networking opportunities," Camerer said. "It's very different than a traditional class. Some of the speakers have some very funny, interesting stories to tell. These are people who are out there participating in the real world and can share their experiences. For students to have that kind of exposure to the world after graduation is very valuable to them."

Each daily session goes from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and features an introduction to a topic, at least two guest speakers, a discussion and wrap-up. Along the way to writing a final two-page synopsis of their own entrepreneurial product or service, students learn about intellectual property, financial resources, marketing and the basics of a business plan. They also are required to hand in four other homework assignments during the week.

Speakers this year included Harvey Kushner, an alumnus and president of Kushner Management Planning Corp; Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development; Barclay Knapp, university trustee and former president and CEO of the British media company NTL; and Steve Battista, director of marketing for Under Armour.

Buppert, who spoke last Wednesday, talked of his rapid rise to success and all the pitfalls that have come with the territory, such as, how does the youngest person in the company earn employees' respect? His answer: "work harder than everyone else." Buppert also told of the less glamourous side of being a president and CEO, like having to lay off people and exact money from customers late on their payments.

He said he's made a few "minor" mistakes along the way, too, and he felt that was important for the students to hear. He warned them not to micromanage and of the importance of listening to advice from those smarter than they.

"While I don't think much that I say here can save other people from making the same mistakes, I was hoping that there would be some people in here who would say, 'This is actually what I'm going to do,' and maybe they would call me in five years when they are in that situation and say, 'I would love to get some insight from you as you had to have gone through this before,'" he said.

During a break in Buppert's talk, Mary Sue Easter Eggs were handed out to all the students. Buppert, who grew up with the candy, said a passion for the product or service is a needed ingredient for success.

"The key is the passion, the drive, the energy and motivation to get up every morning when you're tired and don't feel like dealing with it all, or things just aren't going in the right direction," he said.

Each day last week, several randomly selected students were invited to join the speakers and organizers of the class for lunch at the Hopkins Club so that they could continue the day's discussion. In addition, the class had breaks during which students could chat with the speakers.

Camerer said that the intersession class is the perfect primer for those who want to enter the W.P Carey Program's Business Plan Competition, which annually awards $5,000 to the individual or team submitting the best plan. Second- and third-place prizes are also awarded. Initial plans for the 2004 competition are due by 3 p.m. on Feb. 6.

"This course gives them just a taste of what it's like to start a business from scratch or take over an existing one," Camerer said. "We hope [this class] gets them thinking about a detailed, full-fledged plan."


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