Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship | Mays Impacts - Part 3

They came with memories on their minds and dreams in their heart, and they left with solid plans for achieving them. Twenty-three veterans who have served since 9/11 credit an entrepreneurship bootcamp with giving them the boost they needed to make the most of their experiences and ideas.

The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Class of 2011
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Class of 2011
(view more photos from EBV 2011)

Gina Williams thought the personalized candy business she and a “chocoholic” friend started five years ago was cooking along nicely, but she says she learned some lessons at the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) at Mays Business School that will start benefitting her business immediately. “We have established our business, but we want to have the best there is, and I have some tools to do that now,” says Williams, a 24-year veteran of the Air Force who lives south of Houston and operates “Dandy Candy online”. “Our passion is being charitable, so we give a portion of our proceeds to charities. Now I realize we need to learn more about our industry and our own little business, because it changes so quickly. Education is really key.”

The EBV program is designed to help participants learn essential skills that will help them start, grow and successfully manage entrepreneurial ventures. They participate in a three-week online self-study, a nine-day on-campus residency program at Texas A&M and a year of mentorship with a faculty member. The program provides participants not only with the practical skills necessary to make their new venture a success, but also a network of support that will be vital as they launch their ideas.

Joshua P. Kinser, managing partner of San Antonio-based KSV Group, says the ideas discussed in the sessions will help him improve his business. He says the critiques of the business plans were specific and informative, and the mentors added an essential layer of attention.

“I was really impressed with the innovative minds who taught the subjects. Their focus was being innovative; their theme was, “Whatever you do, don’t be bland,'” Kinser explains. “Every facet was presented as a building block to get you to the end, to get you out the door and back to your business with fresh ideas and a broader knowledge base.”

Mays’ EBV program, held Aug. 6-14 on the Texas A&M campus, provides education and training in entrepreneurship and small business management free of cost to military personnel injured in the line of duty since 9/11.


During their week on campus, three of this year’s EBV participants recorded daily video updates.
(see more video blogs)

A new element this year was a roundtable with successful graduates of the EBV program. In the months following the program, the entrepreneurs will get help with creating logos and marketing materials.

The EBV program was introduced in 2007 by the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. Now the program is offered in consortium with Mays, UCLA, Florida State University, Purdue, the University of Connecticut, and Louisiana State University.

At Mays, the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE) hosts the program each year. “We have the opportunity to change lives for men and women who have given so much to us through their service to our country,” says Richard Lester, clinical associate professor and executive director of the CNVE. “It is a great honor and privilege that all of us share who become associated with the EBV program.”

The cost is about $5,000 per participant, but thanks to the generous support of corporate sponsors and private individuals, the veterans are allowed to attend the entire program — including tuition, travel and accommodations — at no cost.

Country performer Michael Peterson kicked off the program at Texas A&M with an inspiring performance. He lauded Mays for supporting the veterans, adding, “It’s not a charity and it’s not a hand-out. We need them. We need their ideas and their work.”

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, who began his furniture sales empire in Houston 32 years ago, told the entrepreneurs during their graduation ceremony “whatever I’ve done in my life as an entrepreneur, you can do better.”

At the end of the residency week, participants pitched their business plans to a panel of entrepreneurs and industry experts.
At the end of the residency week, participants pitched their business plans to a panel of entrepreneurs and industry experts.
(view more photos from EBV 2011)

He encouraged them to feed opportunities and starve problems. “So many people said we’d never make it with our company but I had a great big unfair advantage, and you’ve got it too: Desire,” McIngvale explains. “The number one ingredient in business success is an unsinkable work ethic and a relentless focus on the customer.”

Kinser and Williams both commented on the program’s final day that they had developed a kinship with their fellow veterans.

“This experience has humbled me more than I ever expected,” Williams says. “I never dreamed there would be people who would be so dedicated to the veterans this way, to make sure we had all we needed to succeed.

“And to learn and serve alongside these other people has been an honor to me. I don’t call them classmates, I call them my entrepreneurship family. I will make sure we stay in touch.”

More information

Categories: Featured Stories, Programs, Texas A&M

Mays Business School is again joining a select group of business schools to offer the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV). This year, supporters will once again be able to taste the action of the life-altering program, as three of the 25 Mays participants will be video-blogging the event. (See the videos here starting August 9.)

Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities

The program, which runs from August 6 to 13 on the A&M campus, provides education and training in entrepreneurship and small business management free of cost to military personnel injured in the line of duty since 9/11. The program is designed to help participants learn essential skills that will help them start, grow and successfully manage entrepreneurial ventures.

“We have the opportunity to change lives for men and women who have given so much to us through their service to our country. It is a great honor and privilege that all of us share who become associated with the EBV program,” says Richard Lester, clinical associate professor, and executive director of the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE). The CNVE hosts EBV at Mays, where Lester oversees the program. (Click here to see coverage from previous years’ EBV programs at Mays.)

The EBV program was introduced by the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University in 2007. Now the program is offered in consortium with Mays, UCLA, Florida State University, Purdue, University of Connecticut and Louisiana State University.

The program consists of a three-week online self-study, a nine-day on-campus residency period, and a year of mentorship with a faculty member volunteer as participants launch their new ventures. The program provides participants not only with the practical skills necessary to make their new venture a success, but also a network of support that will be vital as they launch their ideas. New to the program this year is a panel discussion featuring past EBV participants who have started businesses.

Thanks to the generous support of corporate sponsors and private individuals, the entire program — including tuition, travel and accommodations — is offered at no cost to the veterans. (To give to this program at A&M, visit the Texas A&M Foundation website.)

Contact the Mays EBV Program Director, Richard Lester, for more information at rlester@mays.tamu.edu or (979) 862-7091.

Categories: Centers, Programs, Texas A&M

At Texas A&M, students know that springtime means innovation. The Ideas Challenge, hosted by the Texas A&M Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE), looks to Aggies of all majors, from freshmen to graduate level, to come up with “the next big thing.” Hundreds of Aggies take advantage of this opportunity to present their ideas for marketable new products and services to members of business and academic communities.

The Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship is dedicated to fostering an entrepreneurial mindset within Texas A&M students, and for the tenth year in a row, the Ideas Challenge provides the perfect amount of incentive and competition to pique their interests. The challenge helps students develop their ideas from a business standpoint, pushing the participants to assess their products or services based on their on marketability, applicability and efficacy.

Ideas Challenge logo

Students are encouraged to work hard and think outside the box when it comes to their submissions—a winning idea requires creativity, careful planning, detailed writing and a compelling business presentation. Entry is free, but the competition is huge; in past years, the challenge has drawn in more than 400 submissions, and only the top 40 are named finalists. However, the incentive is huge: the top five ideas are awarded thousands in cash prizes.

Getting to the top isn’t easy. Judges pepper the students with questions, assessing whether or not their idea is a stable venture. They challenge the feasibility, financial viability and overall value of the submissions, but the evaluation doesn’t simply end there. Students are also heavily appraised on their writing, presentation, organization and communication skills. If they are unable to clearly and persuasively express their business idea to the judges, participants are unlikely to succeed.

The CNVE hosts several workshops to help students craft their submissions. Each entry must include a detailed list of which customers, competitors and suppliers will be involved in the business concept. Students must also prepare a 2-Minute Drill, a succinct and persuasive speech that outlines the fundamentals of their idea. This, the CNVE stresses, will be the most crucial element of their presentations.

Richard Lester, clinical associate professor and executive director of the CNVE, says that as far as the Ideas Challenge goes, “the idea to think creatively is the greatest resource for students.” He feels that the challenge allows participants a unique opportunity to express themselves in innovative new ways.

“So often [students] just follow along with textbooks, but this program challenges them to think on their own in a very creative and different way,” Lester says. He has seen numerous submissions in the past that are every bit as innovative as they are diverse, ranging from a bicycle helmet safety device to a mobile cupcake van.

In previous years, the panel of judges has seen multiple winning ideas. One student developed a networking website that allows its members to rate and compare courses at Texas A&M with their fellow classmates, as well as buy and sell textbooks. Another proposed a business idea that allows customers to decorate ready-made cakes themselves. Over the last five years, judges have seen submissions as diverse as duct-tape sandals and a method for directing the color of cultured pearls.

“The goal is to show students that you can create your own job at some point,” Lester says, adding that the Ideas Challenge “highlights creativity and solving some of the world’s problems.”

The program receives ample support from Texas A&M faculty members from other disciplines as well. Rodney Hill, a renowned professor in the College of Architecture, requires all students in his ENDS 101-Design Process course to compete in the challenge.

“The whole class is about generating knowledge, not reproducing knowledge,” states Hill, who has been at Texas A&M since receiving his master’s degree in architecture from University of California-Berkeley in 1969.

Hill arranges his students in groups of six, mixing both majors and genders to provide a trans-disciplinary environment. They come up with a “soft innovation” each week. Hill advises his students to examine “things that might irk them during the day, and come up with a solution.” At the end of the year his students are required to submit a final product to the Ideas Challenge. Last year, his students took first, second and and one of the three third places.

2011 Ideas Challenge

This year’s Ideas Challenge was held on May 4. The 2011 winners were:

  • First Place: University Folding Bikes – Patrick Daniels and Martin Griggs
  • Second Place: Scream Cards – Blake Carlton and Evan Lange
  • Third Place (3): Austin City Hotel – Jason Childs; Advanced Cell Culture System – Mithil Chokshi, Ashley Labonte, Jeehyun Park, Michael Whiltely; The Stint – James Bonn, Hillary Brugger, Megan Hafner, Edward Hartmann, Johnny Shih, Luke Smith

For more information, visit the webpage at cnve.tamu.edu/programs/ideas-challenge. To learn more about the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship, go to cnve.tamu.edu.

Categories: Centers, Students

Taking technology projects to the masses starts with a group of corporate leaders — CEOs who have volunteered to judge their presentations and supporting materials in the MBA Technology Transfer Challenge at Mays.

Twelve teams of MBA students recently completed the annual process of gathering data, then presenting their findings to the group of judges. The top three teams left with cash prizes and bragging rights for the next year.

The annual MBA Technology Transfer Challenge tasks teams of MBA students to gather data about cutting edge technology projects, then present their findings to a group of experienced judges.
The annual MBA Technology Transfer Challenge tasks teams of MBA students to gather data about cutting edge technology projects, then present their findings to a group of experienced judges. (view more photos)

Participation in the challenge is part of the first-year MBA curriculum. The technology is assigned randomly, but the event represents the first time the students are allowed to choose their teammates — a lesson in itself, according to Richard Lester, executive director of the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship, which sponsors the event.

“This is a huge experiential exercise for the students,” Lester explains. “They not only work with real CEOs, they also work with their classmates to pitch the investment and the technology.”

Presentations are judged not on the merits of the technology, but on the students’ effectiveness at demonstrating its marketability. The winners are determined by the depth of their research, which includes market analysis, potential barriers to market entry and competition, their presentation skills and evidence of product knowledge during the Q&A session with the judges.

The exercise introduces viable technology projects and provides insight into those projects to the judges, many of whom are MBA graduates who have participated in the program previously. Diana Doughty ’10, whose team won in 2009, said it is an honor to be asked to judge the contest.

“It’s neat to see what they come up with, especially when you’ve been through it and you know what all they have to go through to get there,” she said. “It’s exciting to be on this side of it, and it’s an honor to serve the school in this way.”

Taking first place this year was team CorInnova, with MBA students John Brown, Luke Carlton, Cody Slape, Kelly Taylor Alfredo Volio and Peter Eskander. Their technology project is an early-stage cardiovascular device company developing an innovative implantable device to treat congestive heart failure.

This year's first-place team studied an innovative implantable device developed by CorInnova to treat congestive heart failure.
This year’s first-place team studied an innovative implantable device developed by CorInnova to treat congestive heart failure. (view more photos)

The second-place team members were Brandon Boatcallie, Derek Colvin, Nishita Roy and Jasen Smith. Their technology project, Shape Memory Therapeutics, is a neurovascular device company founded to commercialize innovative medical devices to treat stroke and cerebral aneurysm.

The third-place team members were Jeff Cope, Larry Jackson, Dawn Lin, Justin Martin and Nityasha Wadalkar. Their project, Preclinical PET, centered on the development of completely new silicon-based photon detectors by Hammumatsu, will enable groundbreaking positron emission tomography (PET) detection hardware with the ability to operate in a magnetic field enabling the combination of PET and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). The Texas A&M System employs one of the world’s premiere software writers for PET imaging, Dr. Mark Lennox. The combination of these two capabilities (hardware/software) and a focus on preclinical applications of the technology is the basis for the company.

The prizes were $3,000 for first place, $2,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place, which was sponsored by JBKnowledge. The title sponsor was the Texas A&M Division of Research and Graduate Studies, and other sponsors were AXYS and ConocoPhillips.

Categories: Programs, Students

The traits that set Aggies apart—excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect, and selfless service—may have something to do with why Aggies are at the head of businesses around the world that are growing strong, despite a still struggling economy. The sixth annual Aggie 100 event was held recently to recognize these leaders, whose efforts create jobs and provide essential products and services.

The Aggie 100 recognizes the fastest growing Aggie-owned or -operated businesses in the world, as gauged by the company’s compound annual growth rate over a two-year period. This year’s list was announced on Friday, October 22, at a lunch hosted by the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE) at Mays. The list included a variety of industries, from ophthalmology to engineering.

Members of the 2010 Aggie 100, outside Kyle Field
Members of the 2010 Aggie 100, outside Kyle Field (view more photos)

Claiming the top spot for 2010 was Tom Bieschke “95, chairman, president, CEO and founder of Caltex Energy Inc., a five-year-old oil and gas exploration and production company based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The compound growth rate for Caltex for the two-year period was 224.07 percent.

Of the top 10 companies on the list, three are led by Mays graduates: David Baggett ’81, partner and founder of Houston consulting firm Opportune LLP, was fourth on the list; Mitt Salvaggio ’82, president, owner and founder of Salvaggio, Teal & Associates, an information systems company in Austin, was eighth; and Russ D. Peterson Jr., managing director, owner, and founder of iSpeak, Inc, a professional development training firm in Round Rock, was tenth.

Though he didn’t make the 2010 list, former two-time Aggie 100 honoree Greg Hall was recognized at the event for his part in the rescue of the trapped Chilean miners earlier in the month. His Houston-based company, Drillers Supply International, was responsible for developing and executing the “Plan B” attempt that was successful in the rescue of the 33 men who had been trapped half a mile underground for 69 days.

The theme for the 2010 Aggie 100 event was “the company we keep.” CNVE executive director Richard Lester, a clinical associate professor of management, told event attendees that with people like Hall in the line-up of past winners, being on the list puts them in good company.

Texas A&M University president R. Bowen Loftin '71 speaks at the 2010 Aggie 100 Luncheon
Texas A&M University president R. Bowen Loftin ’71 speaks at the 2010 Aggie 100 Luncheon (view more photos)

In addition to the luncheon event, dozens of Aggie 100 honorees guest lectured in classes across campus, sharing their success stories and life lessons with the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Aggie 100 honorees give back in another vital way: each year, they provide funds for entrepreneurship scholarships at Mays. Several scholarship recipients spoke at the luncheon, thanking their predecessors for making their education possible. One such student was Kelly Kravitz, who recently used an Aggie 100 scholarship to participate in the Empowering Entrepreneurship in South Africa program. She and three Mays students traveled to South Africa to work with black small business owners, who are still struggling to find success in the country after apartheid. “You are supporting entrepreneurship around the world,” Kravitz told the audience.

In addition to the Aggie 100 awards, one other award was presented. The CNVE Excellence Award was given to Lenae Huebner, the former assistant director of the center who now works with a local start-up. Huebner was one of the originators of the Aggie 100 event, and organized the celebration for five years.

The breakdown

Houston accounting firm PKF Texas provided the analysis for the Aggie 100 event again this year. In addition to determining the top 100 of those that applied for the award, they also gave this overview:

  • In the six years of the award’s history, 347 organizations have been recognized.
  • Forty new companies were added to the list in 2010.
  • The 2010 list represents three countries and six U.S. states.
  • The honorees in 2010 range from class of 1956 to class of 2004.
  • Three of the top ten honorees are also listed in the INC 500.
  • Total revenues created by all of the Aggie 100 companies in the two-year period they examined is $1.34 billion.
  • One company has made the list all six years: MacResource in College Station. Four other companies have been on the list for five of the six years: Catapult Systems, FOBI, Liquid Frameworks, and Internet Truckstop.
  • On the 2010 list, there were 12 honorees named Mike or Michael.
  • Eleven of the 2010 honoree companies are family-owned.
About the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship

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. The Texas A&M faculty and Office of Technology Commercialization benefit from the center’s educational programs, extensive business community network and the entrepreneurial services. The center also reaches out to the state’s business community offering educational programs, business assistance and access to university resources.

The center is supported by corporate and individual members and sponsors who believe in the value of an entrepreneurial education program and the value of Texas businesses working with Texas A&M University.

Categories: Centers, Former Students

The 100 fastest-growing Aggie-owned or Aggie-led businesses in the world will be recognized October 22 at the sixth annual Aggie 100 program, sponsored by Mays Business School’s Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University.

The Aggie 100 focuses on growth as an indicator of job creation, product acceptance and entrepreneurial vision. Recipients of the award were selected based on compound annual revenue growth rate for the 2007 to 2009 period. In all, companies from six states and three countries will be honored at the event.

Each year, the Aggie 100 program recognizes the 100 fastest-growing Aggie-owned or Aggie-led businesses in the world.
Each year, the Aggie 100 program recognizes the 100 fastest-growing Aggie-owned or Aggie-led businesses in the world.

Several of the businesses on the list are local to the Bryan/College Station area, while many others are from across the state of Texas.

More than 450 representatives and guests of honored companies have been invited to the A&M campus for the event. Six hundred people are expected to attend the luncheon in The Zone Club at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, including approximately 100 current students. A&M President Bowen Loftin will present the keynote address at the luncheon.

A complete list of all companies qualifying for the 2010 Aggie 100, along with their placement on the list, will be formally announced at noon October 22. The list will be posted later that day on aggie100.com.

To be considered, companies (corporations, partnerships, sole proprietorships) must operate in a manner consistent with the Aggie Code of Honor and in keeping with the values and image of Texas A&M. They must also meet the following criteria:

  • In business for five years or more as of June 30, 2010; and
  • Verifiable revenues of $100,000 or more for calendar year 2007.

Additionally, the company must meet one of the following leadership criteria:

  • A Texas A&M former student or group of former students must have owned 50 percent or more of the company from January 1, 2007, through December 31, 2009, or
  • A Texas A&M former student must have served as the company’s chief executive (for example chairman, CEO, president or managing partner) from January 1, 2007, through December 31, 2009, or
  • A Texas A&M former student must have founded the company and been active as a member of the most senior management team from January 1, 2007, through December 31, 2009.
About the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship

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. The Texas A&M faculty and Office of Technology Commercialization benefit from the center’s educational programs, extensive business community network and the entrepreneurial services.

The center also reaches out to the state’s business community offering educational programs, business assistance and access to university resources.

The center is supported by corporate and individual members and sponsors who believe in the value of an entrepreneurial education program and the value of Texas businesses working with Texas A&M University.

For more information

To find out more about the Aggie 100 program, visit Aggie100.com or contact Ashley Crane, assistant director of the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship at (979) 845-4882 or aggie100@tamu.edu.

Categories: Centers, Programs, Texas A&M

The year was 1960. A young engineer fresh out of college was granted a patent for his invention; an invention he knew would radically shift an industry. The competitor’s product weighed 400 pounds and cost $800. His? A mere 10 pounds selling for $105.

He had a great, patented idea but no money and few connections. What did he have? Desire.

“I started with nothing…I didn’t have any money, so I rode a Greyhound bus for two years from city to city introducing my product, an electronic valve actuator, to chief engineers and getting orders from them. I built the business one sale at a time.”

Frank Raymond started out with one great invention, a Greyhound bus ticket and a whole lot of moxie.
Frank Raymond started out with one great invention, a Greyhound bus ticket and a whole lot of moxie.

Fifty years later, Frank Raymond’s hard work has paid off. Though now co-founder and chairman of a multinational corporation, he has not forgotten those long bus trips doggedly pursuing sales. He wants to use the lessons he’s learned to benefit the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. That was the motivation for Raymond and his wife, Jean, to commit $410,000 for scholarships through the Mays Business School Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship over the next 20 years. Along with the financial gifts, Raymond wants to mentor scholarship recipients.

Taking a product from design to production, launching and selling and merging companies, opening plants all around the world—Raymond has seen it all when it comes to entrepreneurship. He hopes that through these scholarships, he can help a young person learn in the classroom what he had to learn through the hard lessons of experience.

• • • • •

After the Greyhound sales trips to build his first venture, R&A Machine Company, Raymond merged the business twice, eventually becoming Raymond Control Systems. In 1976 he sold out of that business and started his next project, founding the controls division of Keystone International, Inc., the oil field services company owned by Texas A&M patron Galen T. Brown. Both businesses grew exponentially under Raymond’s leadership. Eventually, he led Keystone as president of their North and South American offices.

The transition as Keystone moved from a private to a public firm was a learning experience, says Raymond, as greater external funding meant he was able to control less of his company, leading to business decisions he didn’t agree with. After Keystone’s public offering, Raymond and Craig Brown ’75 (son of Galen) left the company to organize Bray in 1986. Raymond is proud to boast that Bray is not for sale and that it has never been dependant on outside funding. He has no intention ever taking the company public, as that would put others in the decision-making seat that he enjoys sharing with Brown, now the president and CEO.

Some entrepreneurs can’t sit still long enough to enjoy a meal all the way through dessert. Raymond defies this stereotype. He founded Bray in 1986 and says the work there continues to be fulfilling, especially as the company grows, adding new products and services, acquiring other companies. “It’s been a phenomenal growth company…It’s been such an exciting run and it’s still exciting.”

“Entrepreneurs will never be comfortable for long. There will be happy and prosperous periods and other times when you’ll lose your shirt. The majority of your career will be spent adjusting to or creating change. ”
—Frank Raymond

The life of an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, Raymond acknowledges. “The risks of entrepreneurship are extremely high and the work ethic must also be extremely high. You have to have tremendous drive to do it.” Entrepreneurs will never be comfortable for long he says, as there will be happy and prosperous periods of the business, and other times when you’ll lose your shirt—but the majority of your career will be spent adjusting to or creating change. In that environment, it takes a certain breed of person—and a certain kind of family—to survive and thrive.

Raymond counts himself lucky to have the family that he does, as their support was integral to his success. “I never had to worry about them being a problem, as families can be if they get scared.” He says his wife never complained when, more than once, he leveraged their assets to invest in advancing the business.

In fact, Jean was also an entrepreneur, operating her own interior design business for many years, so she understood better than most the challenges her husband faced.

“The driving force [for an entrepreneur] is starting from nothing and trying to be successful for yourself and for your family,” says Raymond.

“I think most people don’t have the fire in the belly to take those risks. But I do.” In the end, the risks are well worth it. “The satisfaction is unbelievable. Some people call it the rush…solving problems, moving ahead, the challenges of constantly developing new products and seeing them become successful in the market place.”

“I must say, even after doing this for 50 years, I’m still emotionally excited about what we do and where we’re going and how we’re getting there.”

Categories: Featured Stories

Mzuvukile “Rasta” Mfengwana’s silk screening business is a small operation: a modest workroom in a community of dilapidated shacks where he and his wife design and create items by hand to sell to tourists in Cape Town, South Africa.

Rasta leans over his worktable, brushing blue paint over a screen-covered tee shirt. He explains the process to several women who cluster around him. Some of the women are single mothers in the community; their children play nearby. Rasta, of limited means himself, is training the women in the hopes that providing them with a trade will help lift them out of poverty.

This summer, four Aggies joined students from three other universities to work with the Entrepreneurship Empowerment in South Africa (EESA) program.
This summer, four Aggies joined students from three other universities to work with the Entrepreneurship Empowerment in South Africa (EESA) program.

The other women watching Rasta work aren’t there to learn silk screening. They have travelled thousands of miles to offer the entrepreneur knowledge they’ve learned from textbooks in the hopes of improving his business, and through it, the whole community. One of these women is a Mays student.

In return, they will receive a hands-on lesson in small business operation they could never find in a classroom.

Lauren Dunagan ’11 was one of the students that worked with Rasta through the Entrepreneurship Empowerment in South Africa (EESA) program this summer. “It was a little overwhelming,” she recalls of her first visit to Old Crossroads Township, the impoverished area where Rasta lived and worked. “I felt like I was in over my head.” However, once she and teammates got to work, the experience went from overwhelming to amazing. “I learned an incredible amount. Way more than I could have gotten in a classroom.” By the end of the program, Dunagan had helped lay the groundwork for Rasta’s business to expand exponentially.

“My working with Lauren and her team opened new frontiers for me,” said Rasta. “This was an experience of a lifetime. Lauren and her team showed me ways and found paths I’d never even dreamt of. These guys made me identify my mistakes and showed ways to correct them. I’m now more confident than ever before.”

Now, Rasta is poised to do more than increase his sales—he’s also ready to offer work to the single mothers he’s trained.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
—Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa (1994-1999)

A brighter future

Though apartheid officially ended in 1994, black business owners in South Africa still struggle to find equal opportunities in the white-dominated society. Amid the economic boom now taking place in Cape Town, the country’s principal city, many are getting rich. For other businessmen and -women, education, funding, and success remain out of reach.

“You could see where apartheid had left its mark. You could see the strong division between the blacks and whites,” said Dunagan, who noted the great wealth disparities present: BMWs drive past rows of shacks where hungry children play.

But you can also see how people are moving past old prejudices and working toward a brighter future, she says.

Stimulating the economy by aiding the growth of the enterprises of these under-resourced small business owners is the goal of the EESA program, a joint effort of the University of the Western Cape, Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University, and the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado. This is the first year that the program was also offered through the Mays Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship. Three Mays students and one other Aggie participated in the highly selective course, learning valuable lessons about business and politics as they created value for others.

The South African entrepreneurs he worked with inspired Paul Morin “10, a student in the Professional Program, to think more about his own future. The business owners had taken great personal risks and overcome adversity to build a successful venture, he says.

“I have always hoped to start my own business one day, but I always run into so many doubts and end up making excuses. After seeing what these entrepreneurs are capable of in spite of everything working against them, there are no more excuses I or anyone else I know can make,” he said. “We learned more from these entrepreneurs than we could have ever shared with them.”

Social entrepreneurship, the future of non-profits

Kelly Kravitz ’13 was one of the other Aggie participants. A graduate student in the public service and administration program at the George Bush School of Public Policy at A&M, Kravitz says she didn’t know much about business when she began the six-week course in May. Half of each day of the EESA program was spent in a classroom in Cape Town, where Kravitz got a crash course in entrepreneurship, as well as learning the societal factors that hinder the small business owners she worked with. The other half of the day was spent in the field, working side by side with emerging entrepreneurs.


“I learned an incredible amount,” said Lauren Dunagan ’11 (pictured at far right) of her EESA experience. “Way more than I could have gotten in a classroom.”

Participating businesses must have been in operation for at least two years. Their ventures ranged from catering and arts and crafts businesses to community newspapers and small manufacturing operations.

Some of the business owners were skeptical at the onset of the course, and were not receptive to having their operations scrutinized by American college students.
By the end of the six-week program, however, all were won over as the students presented four “deliverables” to each business owner.

The deliverables, including websites, revamped bookkeeping systems, and marketing campaigns, were unveiled at a closing dinner event. “It was amazing. Some of the business owners cried,” said Kravitz. “They were so thankful. They told us “God sent you to me.’…We saw businesses transformed.”

In an environment where fraud, corruption, and poverty are prevalent, Kravitz says she learned a lot about what it takes to create a sustainable business. She hopes to use the experience and her degree from A&M to pursue work in the non-profit sector developing a social entrepreneurial venture—a business that is dedicated to serving a needy population by giving them a sustainable source of work and income. “I see that as being the future of non-profits,” says Kravitz. They will find ways to be independent of donations and will become profit-generating businesses with a mission to improve lives.

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
—Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa (1994-1999)

Beyond the basics

Students in the program were split into teams of four to act as consultants; each team had two entrepreneur clients. Rishabh Mathur, an MS-MIS student at Mays, hopes to go into business for himself as a consultant after he graduates in December, so the experience was particularly instructive for him.

One of the clients Mathur’s team worked with was LM Tax Consultants. The three partner/owners are the only employees, but Mathur says they are planning expansion, including new hires and a second location.

EESA students also took a little time to enjoy the festivities of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
EESA students also took a little time to enjoy the festivities of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

At LM, growth was happening so rapidly that owners could scarcely keep up with the workload, let alone take time to evaluate their business and create a workable infrastructure. The EESA students examined all of their operations and then set to work to provide them with immediate solutions in IT, marketing, operations, and HR.

Mathur and teammates overhauled the company’s website, adding web marketing initiatives, SEO, and analytics. They collected information from invoices to create a warehouse of data, which they analyzed and segmented to determine a targeted marketing strategy. Finally, they created printed marketing materials.

One of their most significant achievements was the creation of HR document templates, such as leave requests and time sheets, so that when the company is ready to hire employees, the owners will be prepared to track their time and pay them appropriately.

“It was a great, great experience,” says Mathur, who appreciated that he learned about many areas of business through the program.

The other education

Along with all the work, the students had a little fun. They took advantage of their free time by attending two World Cup soccer games (“I know people complained about the vuvuzelas, but they were so much fun,” said Dunagan of the noisemakers), swam with sharks, toured Robben Island (where President Nelson Mandela was a prisoner for 18 years), and hiked Table Mountain. “It was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Dungan.

The introduction to South African culture made a large impact on the A&M students: each mentioned the desire to do business in the country in the future. Mathur and an EESA student from OSU are creating a business plan now that includes a South African component. He’s excited about the business, which involves automotive accessory manufacturing, and is excited about providing jobs in South Africa. “It’s a rapidly growing economy,” he says. “This experience has given me more confidence in starting my own business there.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
—Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa (1994-1999)

Categories: Featured Stories, Students

When you’re jumping from a plane, there’s no stopping in the open doorway to reflect. You follow the soldier in front of you. They jump, then you jump. A second after that, the soldier behind you jumps. The planeload of paratroopers plummets toward earth, opening the lifesaving parachutes at a specific point—a mere 500 feet from the ground in a combat scenario. Higher up if there’s no one shooting at you, because the closer you are to landing when you open your chute, the less time you are a slowly drifting target.

Charles McKellar, a sergeant in the 82nd Airborne division, had completed nearly 50 jumps in his career without incident. Then, on a routine jump simulating combat conditions, he was involved in what the Army called a “high-altitude entanglement”: he was sucked out of the aircraft with another paratrooper. McKellar remembers seeing the tail of the plane rushing toward him, knowing he was probably going to die, praying that he would be spared. His parachute collapsed and he was knocked unconscious.

The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Class of 2010
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Class of 2010 (view more photos from EBV 2010)

“I hit the earth and the next thing I remember was some beautiful woman looking at me saying, “Can you hear me now?'” he chuckles as he recounts his brush with death.

Along with the personal motto, “Everyday you wake up is a good day,” the incident left him with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Frequently caused by bomb blasts, TBIs can affect thinking, sensation, movement, language, and emotions. Like hundreds of thousands of other U.S. soldiers, McKellar will struggle with the effects of this injury, perhaps for the rest of his life. The extent of his wound led to medical discharge from the Army, ending his eight-year career in the military.

Today, he works at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, teaching IT classes to wounded warriors. While McKellar is fortunate to have a job, many soldiers with TBIs, and the more common and similarly disruptive post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), find traditional employment extremely challenging. A down economy and a scarcity of job opportunities only add to the difficulty.

Entrepreneurship offers these self-sacrificing men and women an opportunity to work on their own terms. Although small business ownership is challenging and risky, the rewards can be great.

Those potential rewards brought McKellar to the A&M campus last month. He was one of 18 participants in the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities program, which offers free training in small business ownership and operation to vets wounded in service after 9/11.

Fed through the fire hose

Piloted by the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University four years ago, the program is now offered in consortium with Mays and four other schools across the nation. It provides participants with the practical skills necessary to make a new venture a success, and an exceptional support network that will be vital as they launch their new ideas.

Participants came from all branches of the military and all parts of the country. With a variety of experiences and ideas, the common theme among the soldiers was a desire to make a difference—in their own lives, in the lives of other veterans, in their communities—through their proposed business ventures.


During their week on campus, three of this year’s EBV participants recorded daily video updates. (see more video blogs)

Some participants already had a business in operation at the time of the program and were able to apply EBV course materials directly to improve their ventures, from private security to clothing design.

For others, the week helped them to shape an idea and turn it into a concrete plan of action.

Stephanie Bowers was one such participant. An Army medic, sergeant Bowers doesn’t look like a woman who has seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan. She’s petite and perpetually smiling, with a pleasant southern drawl that gives her away as a native of Tennessee. She currently works at a VA hospital, caring for veterans in much the same way as she did when she was in the military. Her business idea was born out of her experiences as a caregiver and a wounded soldier.

“When I came [to A&M], I knew I wanted to create a patient advocacy business in my hometown,” she said. Over the course of the three-week online training and nine-day residency period on campus, Bowers learned about financial planning, accounting basics, management, intellectual property laws, marketing, personal selling, and other topics. “We were fed through the fire hose,” she says, commenting that it felt like two semesters of business school crammed into one short period.

More important than any one concept mastered during the experience, Bowers says EBV has given her the confidence she needed to be successful. “The biggest thing that I didn’t have when I came that I have now…is the confidence to actually take that leap of faith to start the business.”

Striving for greatness

Likewise, McKellar says the information provided through the EBV program has empowered him. “This program has given me energy beyond my wildest dreams. I know that my business idea will soon become a business reality,” he says. “I know this. I can feel it in my gut. I am so confident about what I’m doing right now.” Currently, he operates a computer repair and web design business in addition to his duties at Fort Bragg. In the near future, he plans to launch a venture called Winners Information Technology Training and Consulting, which will provide IT training and job skills to diverse demographics, from at-risk youth, to injured soldiers, to the elderly.

The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Class of 2010
“This program has given me energy beyond my wildest dreams,” said EBV participant Charles McKellar. “I know that my business idea will soon become a business reality,”

A large guy, McKellar might look intimidating if not for his kind eyes and the jokes and smiles constantly on his lips. Quick with a word of heartfelt encouragement for anyone in need, it is entirely appropriate that his venture is people-focused. He is especially passionate about helping at-risk youth. “I am going to save somebody’s life with education and job stabilization,” he says. “I want to train them because some of them are underprivileged and live in rural or dangerous environments. They have given up on hope. I want to teach them to dream big and to strive for greatness!”

McKellar will lead by example. “You can’t get anywhere by staying where you are. You’ve got to get up and you’ve got to do something. I’m so glad to be [at EBV] because [the instructors] have encouraged me to get up and do something,” he says.

You can see more about McKellar, Bowers, and one other participant, Andrea Carlton, by watching video blogs created during their residency week at A&M.

Thanks to the generous support of corporate sponsors and private individuals, the entire program—including tuition, travel, and accommodations—is offered at no cost to the veterans. This year, PepsiCo joined the program as a corporate sponsor, giving $1.5 million to EBV nationwide. To donate to the Mays EBV program, visit the Texas A&M Foundation.

Contact the Mays EBV Program Director, Richard Lester, for more information at rlester@mays.tamu.edu or (979) 862-7091.

Categories: Centers, Featured Stories, Programs

Mays Business School is again joining a select group of business schools to offer the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV). This year, supporters will be able to taste the action of the life-altering program, as three of the 20 Mays participants will be video-blogging the event. (See the videos here after August 17.)

Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities

The program, which runs from August 14 to 21 on the A&M campus, provides education and training in entrepreneurship and small business management free of cost to military personnel injured in the line of duty since 9/11. The program is designed to help participants learn essential skills that will help them start, grow and successfully manage entrepreneurial ventures.

“We have the opportunity to change lives for men and women who have given so much to us through their service to our country. It is a great honor and privilege that all of us share who become associated with the EBV program,” says Richard Lester, clinical associate professor, and executive director of the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE). The CNVE hosts EBV at Mays, where Lester oversees the program. (Click here to see coverage from previous years’ EBV programs at Mays.)

The EBV program was introduced by the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University in 2007. Now the program is offered in consortium with Mays, UCLA, Florida State University, Purdue, and the University of Connecticut.

The program consists of a three-week online self-study, a nine-day on-campus residency period, and a year of mentorship with a faculty member volunteer as participants launch their new ventures. The program provides participants not only with the practical skills necessary to make their new venture a success, but also a network of support that will be vital as they launch their ideas.

Thanks to the generous support of corporate sponsors and private individuals, the entire program — including tuition, travel and accommodations — is offered at no cost to the veterans. (To give to this program at A&M, visit the Texas A&M Foundation website.)

Contact the Mays EBV Program Director, Richard Lester, for more information at rlester@mays.tamu.edu or (979) 862-7091.

Categories: Centers, Programs, Texas A&M