A great education can only get a young person so far, thought Lashanta Green ’09 after talking with her classmates at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School. For an education to be valuable, coupled with all that knowledge must be direction, some plan for the facts to be applied. “A lot of college seniors don’t know what they want to do after graduation, and that’s disturbing to me,” Green said.

Lashanta Green '09 (left) and her concept for an afterschool career exploration program received second place at this year's Ideas Challenge.
Lashanta Green ’09 (left) and her concept for an afterschool career exploration program received second place at this year’s Ideas Challenge.

Green wondered about the wasted potential of talented college students with only vague future ambitions: how much time, money, and confusion could be saved if those students had been exposed to a variety of careers before starting college? They would change majors less often, finish college sooner, and find more fulfillment in the workplace if they only knew when they enrolled what career outcome they were aiming for.

That thought train led to Green’s Big Idea: a career exploration club—an afterschool program for high school students that would give them insights into different jobs, pairing them with industry professionals to shadow in the workplace. Green refined the idea into a workable business plan and submitted it to the Ideas Challenge, an annual competition hosted by the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE) at Mays.

The competition, open to all A&M students ranging from freshman to doctoral level, began with an essay requiring participants to describe their big idea. Out of 81 entries, 40 finalist idea applications involving 155 students were chosen to present to judges.

Green presented her career club concept during the May 6 event, which gave Ideas Challenge finalists the chance to pitch their ideas for new products and services to successful members of the business and academic world. Participating would-be entrepreneurs were given five minutes to present, followed by a rigorous question and answer session with judges, which covered the marketability and feasibility of each proposal. Each student or group presented their idea to two judging panels.

Green says hearing the feedback from judges was a highly educational experience. The first set of judges was enthusiastic about her presentation. Some of them even offered to help her get the business going when she was ready to pursue it seriously.

The second set of judges was not so kind.

“They weren’t so sure about the idea and how viable it was,” said Green. “I had to really show more determination. It took a lot more persuasion.”

The Ideas Challenge is open to all A&M students ranging from freshman to doctoral level. After submitting their ideas in an essay, 40 finalists were selected to present their proposal to a panel of judges.
The Ideas Challenge is open to all A&M students ranging from freshman to doctoral level. After submitting their ideas in an essay, 40 finalists were selected to present their proposals to a panel of judges.

But she recognized the value of both the good and bad opinions of her business concept. “I learned more from the first judges than I would have from making an A in a class, and I learned more from the second judges than I would have from making an F,” she said. In the end, Green was awarded the second place prize in the competition, taking home a check for $2,000, as well as valuable contacts and insights into making her entrepreneurial vision a reality.

The top ten teams in the competition split a total of $13,000 in prize money provided by sponsors The Research Valley Innovation Center, Gulfstream Graphics Corp, Paragon Innovations, and The Creative Space. Jackson Walker LLP provided pro bono provisional patent work for top prize winners. For the seventh consecutive year, Lynntech, Inc., underwrote the Ideas Challenge event.

Green will graduate with a degree in marketing in December 2009. Her future plans include gaining more workplace experience before entering an MBA program, and eventually, operating her own consulting and marketing firm.

Though she’s still a semester away from graduating, Green already has more job experience than most of her contemporaries, as she has worked full time for years to put herself through college. She plans to contact school districts regarding her career exploration club soon, with the hope of launching the program at the start of the 2010 school year. She says she will put her prize winnings into the program. “I don’t think it is going to cost much money to start it up. It’s more about time and getting people to help…it’s going to take a lot of hard work,” she said. But she’s committed to seeing the program through, as she’s passionate about providing career counseling to young people, helping them to find a dream to strive toward.

About Mays Business School and the CNVE

Mays Business School currently enrolls more than 4,000 undergraduate students and 875 graduate students. Mays is nationally ranked among public business schools for the quality of its undergraduate program, MBA program and the faculty scholarship of its 110 professors in five departments.

The Texas A&M Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship provides encouragement, education, networking and assistance to entrepreneurially minded students, faculty and Texas businesses. Founded in 1999, the center is part of Mays Business School’s Department of Management. The center enhances student education through campus speakers, competitions, work experiences and financial support.

For more information, visit http://mays.tamu.edu or http://www.cnve.org.