Kansas University is trying to provide students with business skills and is hoping to increase community economic development at the same time.
The KU Center for Entrepreneurship has education, research and outreach programs. The education program provides courses to both business students and non-business students.
Students create business plans in every entrepreneurship class — either their own dream or a technology assigned by a professor, said Wally Meyer, director of entrepreneurial programs. Whether the students start their own businesses or not, the skills they learn in the entrepreneurial courses can be applied to any job, he said. Nearly 150 business plans are created each year, he said.
“Many of those plans will ultimately provide those students with the opportunity to go out and start their own business at some point in time,” Meyer said. “The advantage is the economy will get better as a result of these new business startups. So it’s a win-win all the way around.”
KU student Tyler Johnson started his own business, On the Beaten Path, clearing trails in national parks, Meyer said. Another student, Mark Osman, started a music magazine called Eleven Magazine.
A grant from the Economic Development Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce, matched by funds from KU alumni, finances the outreach programs the center supports, including Jayhawk Consulting and the RedTire Program. The RedTire program assists small business owners with the transfer of ownership of a business to KU and K-State graduates.
Small Business Development Center
With only two people on staff, the KU Small Business Development Center stays busy with about 300 clients every year, Director Will Katz said. The center works with business school classes to form partnerships with clients, Katz said. Student groups work for a semester with the center’s clients, possibly helping create a marketing project, a franchise offering, a human resources manual or a social media strategy. Katz said he gets emails and phone calls years later from students thanking him for experience they gained.
Though the center works through KU, it has its own function in Douglas County. Its primary goal is to promote economic development and to help people start, grow and manage small businesses, Katz said.
“We provide guidance,” Katz said. “We give people a founding board and help them identify next steps and answer questions and discuss ideas.” This is done through one-on-one consulting and a few training seminars, which are mostly geared towards startup businesses. The center works with existing small businesses as well.
The center does not do contract work or give legal advice, but works on business and strategic planning.
“Nobody here has passed a bar exam,” Katz said. “But nobody here has failed one either, which is probably good news too.”
Good track record
There are 18 small business development centers in Kansas and 1,100 nationwide. Katz said KU’s has a good track record. Last year, 40 of its clients started a business, which he said was quite good. Last year clients also made about $5 million in new capital investments, created 75 full-time and 100 part-time jobs, and generated about $7.5 million in new revenues, he explained.
“It’s a revenue-positive program,” Katz stated.
While Katz doesn’t see one business field as larger than another in Lawrence, he does believe the city needs more growth in one particular area.
“One of the most important economic development drivers in the community would be growth in what they call primary industries, an industry where the only local competition is in the labor force,” he said.
Katz worked for 17 years at E and E Display Group, which he used as an example of a primary industry. The company, which closed in 2004, sold point of purchase displays and store fixtures. Katz said its top clients were Hallmark in Kansas City, Best Buy in Minneapolis and RadioShack in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We would bring in around $25 million into our community in revenues that we generated outside the community,” he said. “Not to knock restaurants because they’re also good business, but you could make the case that they are not bringing in new dollars, but just splitting up the pie in a different way.”