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Experiential learning projects give students real-world entrepreneurial experience

Throughout the Fall 2016 semester, the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship continued to prove its mission of entrepreneurial education and state economic development by engaging entrepreneurship students and local businesses, start-ups and organizations.

Students in Steven Cutright’s Business Analysis and Planning course worked through the Center, which is housed in the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics, to provide business, marketing, feasibility and commercialization plans to nine businesses and organizations throughout the state.

“BrickStreet had 18 requests from ventures throughout the state, and we were able to accommodate nine this semester. In the course, students learn how to evaluate opportunities and challenges in business, how to structure a new business or re-engineer an existing business,” Cutright, the director of the BrickStreet Center, said. “This is the lab in which students take these skills and the principles they learned in their other business courses and engage in projects with real companies to apply these skills.”

In these experiential learning projects, senior-level and MBA students were put into groups to provide business knowledge and resources to the following organizations: DeltaWing Technologies, Inc.; Mylan Park; Erickson Alumni Center; Milan Puskar Health Clinic; Lucke-Wold Scientific; Jasmine Project; Green Global Unlimited, Choosy Kids and the City of Shinnston.

One group of six seniors developed a business plan for Global Green Unlimited, Inc., a startup company in the railroad tie industry based in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The company discovered a unique way to take old railroad ties that can no longer be used and recreate their original form and strength by using a polymer wrap.

“This process Global Green uses not only helps to recycle used railroad ties, but also gives them a longer life span. Through this process, the company cut down on waste,” said Alexander Teagarden, business management senior and Global Green team leader. “Our group developed a full-scale business plan to outline the startup operations and create a guideline to give them a direction as they form and start up this company. The idea is for Global Green to use this business plan to present to potential financial partners when they seek funding.”

When building the plan, the students started from the beginning with a feasibility study to see if this was actually a realistic idea for a business. Following that, they really dove into the details – the day-to-day operations, location startup, units to meet expenses to meet profit and more. And with these real-world facets, the students were really put to the test.

“It was an extremely valuable learning experience. It wasn’t just a project you could slide through. It had to be a real thing. It took a lot of real effort, a lot of communication with the business partner. You see how many moving parts there are to a business and how hard it is to track down every aspect you need in planning and executing,” Teagardan said. “We created something real – it was a real business plan that a real company is going to use and build off of. It was a learning experience for sure.”

It’s easy to see this was an invaluable project for the students, but it also bolstered economic development in the state and helped a business develop a solid foundation. Willie James, president and CEO of Global Green, was impressed with the students and their performance. He said he hopes to continue working with the BrickStreet Center and B&E students as his business continues to grow.

“We are more than pleased. The students showed a lot of drive and insight into what we are trying to do in terms of the technology. They did additional research based on some of the information we gave them, and they were very much engaged,” James said. “We especially loved that they came to Point Pleasant to meet with elected officials in Mason County, as well as those from the Robert C. Byrd Institute who were present. It was good seeing them there in support of what we were trying to do, and it definitely impacted the other attendees of others who are involved. We will definitely be able to use what they gave us going forward.”

Cutright concluded that all projects were very well received by the representatives of each organization.

“The representatives from each of these organizations were pleased with the students’ efforts and the outcomes of the projects,” Cutright said. “Each group presented at the end of the course to their organization, and each met the standards of professionalism and excellence in quality we expect from them.”