By Sean Wereley
Maroon News Contributor
The University may prepare you for a life of the mind, but with an increasing number of fourth-year undergraduates anxiously looking for a job in business after graduation, many may have been hoping for more hands-on experience.
The Chicago Entrepreneurial Group (CEG) was created last spring to help fill that void. Founded and run by University undergraduates, CEG hopes "to stimulate and support entrepreneurial talent on campus and within the Chicago community," said Kwabena Holder, a third-year in the College and the group's executive director.
"We felt there was a need for a venue for entrepreneurial expression," Holder said. "Because the University focuses on learning for learning's sake, there's less opportunity for undergrads to apply some of what they learn."
The organization issued a mission statement lamenting the steep learning curve that students who enter business after college have to endure, and said that the best way to overcome that is to provide mentors and networking opportunities for College students of all years.
One of CEG's main objectives so far has been to identify and contact key Chicago alumni who they feel could help undergraduates realize their potential. Holder said that they have also contacted faculty at other universities as well as Chicago-area entrepreneurs to host lectures related to enterprise.
"We believe that these men and women can help carve out a niche for CEG in both the University and surrounding community. We are extremely grateful for the help that they can provide," Holder said.
One of CEG's main alumni supporters has been entrepreneur Gary Hoover, who visited the campus last Friday to give a seminar on building successful businesses.
The namesake of Hoover House in Max Palevsky Residential Commons, Hoover graduated from the College and went on to found Bookstop, Inc., the nation's first book superstore. He sold the company to Barnes & Noble for $41.5 million in 1989. He then founded the publishing firm Reference Press, one of whose titles, The Hoover's Handbook, steered the company into specializing in business-related literature. Now with the moniker Hoover's Inc, the company runs Hoover's Online, one of the world's leading distributors of electronic corporate information.
Hoover's seminar was part of the "Graduate School of Business Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Group Speaker Series." The packed audience at the BSLC lecture hall was comprised of almost even numbers of graduate and undergraduate students. Hoover imparted the crowd with practical business advice, including the idea that students should look anywhere for inspiration.
"The most valuable lesson I learned was that you can learn as much from the driver of the owner of the largest cement factory in India as the actual owner, and that in order to build your entrepreneurial ideas, you must learn from all kinds of people," said second-year in the College Nitin Sacheti, CEG's vice president of marketing.
Hoover specifically asked to meet with members of CEG before his seminar and review several mock business plans submitted by its members.
He had advised CEG on their startup and was very enthusiastic about the idea of an organization designed to guide undergraduates interested in business, said third-year in the College David Kanter, who is on the board of directors of CEG.
Rather than apply for RSO status, the group decided to attain incorporated non-profit status in order to pursue avenues of funding outside the Student Government Finance Committee. They modeled their structure after the successful Yale Entrepreneurial Society, and met with its leaders to get guidance and assistance.
Holder emphasized that CEG will act more as an advisory source than as a business itself. He said that this role could yield benefits even in the short run.
"My first two years, I hung out with different friends night after night sharing ideas, dynamic, innovative business ideas that could change the Chicago community. At the end of the night, the conversation ended and so did the ideas," Holder said.
Second-year in the College Diana Tatarchuk, CEG's vice president of events, echoed Holder's sentiment.
"I have met so many people who just have ideas, things that could really work, and they shouldn't have to wait until business school to put them into action. They can come to us, and we will help put them into contact with entrepreneurs and business professionals who can help them realize their potential," Tatarchuk said.
Student-run businesses have been rocky of late. The most recent letdown was the June 2001 shutdown of Stay Up 4Ever. Conceived by College student Carver Tate as a place for students to hang out late, the business garnered some student support but not enough to cover costs, and it closed after just nine months in operation.
Holder said that the recent failures of student-related enterprise would not faze the CEG.
"With respect to the fate of Stay Up 4Ever and others like it, we feel that their lack of success was somewhat due to the lack of business education on campus. That is the void we are trying to fill," Holder said.
The CEG has received praise from counselors at Career and Placement Services (CAPS). The director of CAPS, Liz Michaels, said that the CEG contributes a great deal to campus.
"A focus on entrepreneurial isn't something that has been completely missing from campus, but it is good to see a concerted effort towards introducing students towards that path," Michaels said. "The turnout to Hoover's event was terrific, and I think that is only the beginning."