Students Selected to Enter World of Entrepreneurship

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,

July 17, 2007 – Three Southeast Missouri State University students have been awarded mini grants and office space in the Southeast Business Incubator, incentives designed to give them a boost as they each launch their own business and enter the world of entrepreneurship.

The awards were made last week following a nearly year-long competition known as the Student Entrepreneurship, Southeast Apprentice Program.

Stefanie Tooley of St. Peters, Mo., and Tiffany Thomas of Gordonville, Mo., each have received $5,000 in grant funding to jump start their new businesses. Tooley is launching a graphic design operation, and Thomas is pioneering a photography business. Matt Taylor of Cape Girardeau received a $2,600 grant to further develop his lawn care/maintenance business.

As winners of the contest, they also will receive six months of free office space in the Southeast Business Incubator, located on the third floor of the Southeast Innovation Center.

“It (the program) was a great opportunity, and we had a lot of fun doing it,” said Tooley, a May graduate of Southeast with a major in graphic design and a minor in advertising. “For anyone starting their own business, this is a great way to get on track.”

Tooley says the program provided the students with tremendous resources that will be helpful to them in both getting their business started and in sustaining their business in the future.

Taylor said the instruction in the program he received from Bill Vickery, director of entrepreneurship with the Southeast Innovation Center, was outstanding.

“Bill was phenomenal. He knows his stuff,” said Taylor, who plans to use the grant funding he received to purchase a walk-behind mower. “He’s excellent.” 

Taylor said his lawn mowing business has grown from a small operation originally started by his brother during his high school years, to one that services about 25 customers.

“It pays for my school and my spending money,” said Taylor, who will be a junior majoring in telecommunication and computer networking when the fall semester begins in August at Southeast.

Taylor says he highly recommends the Student Entrepreneurship Program.

“It’s a great program,” he said. “If you’ve got the opportunity and want to do it, don’t hesitate. It’s definitely worth it.” Thomas, a Southeast freshman from Gordonville, Mo., says she plans to use the grant money she received to purchase camera and computer equipment for her new business, Kurios Photography. She says the Student Entrepreneurship Program “gave me the confidence that I can actually start my own business.”

The winners were selected by a committee that reviewed the proposals. Members of the committee were Doug and Heather Greene, University donors and entrepreneurial advisors; Dennis Roedemeier, chief executive officer of the Missouri Research Corp.; Dr. Paul Schnare, Southeast instructor of agriculture; and George Gasser, Southeast Student Government president.

The three winners were pared from a pool of seven Southeast students, who, in December, were selected as winners of a University-wide competition that began with 18 students. The Office of the President and the Student Government Association kicked off the Innovative Student Entrepreneurship Program during the fall 2006 semester. The program was designed to cultivate aspiring student entrepreneurs through real life business experience. The Southeast Innovation Center administered the competition.

Both undergraduate and graduate students competed in the program, working throughout the fall semester to develop sustainable small businesses.

Eighteen proposals representing students in several colleges and departments were considered for the competition. The winners were selected by a committee that reviewed the proposals. Members of that committee were the Greenes; Roger Tolliver, president of Commerce Bank; Vickery, and Adam Hanna, former Southeast Student Government president.

The seven selected in December attended 12 weeks of entrepreneurial training beginning in mid-January and concluding at the end of April. Vickery taught the course using the Kauffman First Steps FastTrac curriculum. The Southeast Innovation Center holds the distinction of being number one in the delivery of the Kauffman First Steps FastTrac curriculum in rural America. Because the curriculum has been so successful with non-student participants, the Innovation Center chose the same course of study for the Student Entrepreneurship Program. The non-credit 36-hour training was provided at no cost to the students.

The training included determining the feasibility of the students’ ideas and constructing a solid business plan. The students then submitted their business plans into competition for start-up business funding and six months of free space in the Southeast Business Incubator.

All seven students completed the course, six of whom submitted business plans for the final competition.

“Southeast Missouri State University prides itself on offering experiential learning and real world experience for every student in every discipline offered on this campus,” said Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University. “There is no better entrée into the real world than the Student Entrepreneurship Program. This innovative new program has given our students the practical experience of developing a true small business concept along with a safe and supportive environment in which to test their ideas. This program is a model for students segueing from college life into the business world.”