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BYO business school

Steve Tripoli Sep 25, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Recent college graduates looking for the next educational opportunity got another option today. Read Newsweek magazine, get an MBA. Alright, that’s an oversimplification but not by much. Newsweek’s going to team up with Kaplan, the test-prep people, to offer an online degree. The press release says it’s the first time a national media outlet’s gotten into the world of E-education. Handy, then, I guess, that both of them are owned by the Washington Post Company.

Undergraduates with an eye toward business are doing something a bit more hands-on. They’re packing up and taking the shop to school with them. From the Marketplace Entrepreneurship Desk, Steve Tripoli has more.

STEVE TRIPOLI: A young company called Mophie in Burlington, Vermont, leases a cool high-tech gadget called a “3-D Printer.” It’s just what the name implies. You design a product on your computer, hit the “print” button while the design’s on-screen, and a printing head shoots out hair-thin streams of hot plastic instead of ink.

It’s like an oven inside, one with a glass door where you can watch what’s baking.

OFFICE WORKER:“And then, after it cooks in there, you take it and you stick it in this bath. . . .”

In minutes, a soft-plastic prototype of the product is in a cooling bath. Shortly after that you can hold it in your hand.

OFFICE WORKER: “Here’s some stuff we cooked last night.”

Mophie makes iPod accessories. It’s a competitive business expected to hit the $2 billion mark this year. So company founder Ben Kaufman uses the 3-D printer to do something businesses once only dreamed of. With a new line of iPods just out, Mophie was able to have new accessories production-ready within a week.

Maybe that’s why Kaufman’s teachers occasionally let him cut class.

BEN KAUFMAN:“I’m not missing class to, ya know, go party.”

Kaufman’s a sophomore at Champlain College in Burlington. When you’re 19 years old with a full course load and a million-and-a-half venture-capital bucks in your pocket, well, even partying has to wait.

It’s no coincidence that Kaufman took the start-up he launched at home on Long Island to this school.

KAUFMAN:“You can jump right into your major on the first day of your first semester, rather than taking all those core classes that I would be incredibly bored with . . . .”

Champlain has launched a program called BYOBiz. It works this way: Students who bring their business to Champlain or start one there get flexibility with school requirements. But they also get active mentoring and regular meetings with Vermont business veterans. They help with everything from strategy to networking with venture capitalists.

Ben Kaufman’s adviser is business professor Robin Lane. She says students like Ben face an interesting juggling act.

ROBIN LANE:“Here he’s trying to start this really exciting business and he has homework! One of the things that we really wanted to do was make sure that his academic work is as compelling as his business work and that’s a tall order! I mean when your business has you, like, going off to China, your classes are going to have to be real interesting.”

BYOBiz aims to help more students become entrepreneurs and help Champlain attract more students. The hope is that students who bring their businesses to Vermont will keep them there.

College President Dave Finney came up with the idea. He hopes a strong presence of student entrepreneurs will stir the school’s intellectual ferment.

DAVE FINNEY:“It unleashes people’s imaginations about what’s possible. And it’s not normal or not usual for someone to think, “You know, I’m going to go to college but I’m also going to grow my own business and when I get out I’ll have a job because I will have created it.'”

Over by the Lake Champlain waterfront, BYOBiz students Pete Jewett and Pete Bruhn run an eBay consignment shop called GoTradingPost. They specialize in antiques but will take most anything someone wants to sell on eBay and handle the auction for them.

PETE JEWETT:“Old posters, vintage electronics sell great . . . “

Pete and Pete get a cut of the proceeds. Pete Jewett says BYOBiz lowered his start-up costs.

JEWETT:“We can go into school and say ‘This is where we’re at.’ You know, get free advice that we don’t have to pay for that otherwise would be charged hourly. And also we can get employees without setting up payroll, workers’ comp in the form of interns.”

So, the program helps student start-ups and the start-ups give other Champlain students business experience.

Sophomore Ben Haulenbeek owns two businesses, a photography studio and an online bike-parts store. Haulenbeek says BYOBiz helps students bridge part of the entrepreneurial learning curve. He says most other business students first go to school and then head to the workforce to make their rookie mistakes.

BEN HAULENBEEK:“I’m skipping that. I’m getting the workforce experience while I’m having my education so when I am done here there won’t be that gap for me. We have that cushion. The failure at a discount where if I had screwed up some of this stuff and having not been the sort of comfort zone of college, it could’ve been a lot more severe than it was.”

Starting this year Champlain’s recruiting high school students specifically for BYOBiz. College President Finney says he’d like to see the program spin off two-to-four Vermont-based businesses a year. It may not sound like a lot, but in a state with only 600,000 residents that kind of business formation adds up over time.

Especially if two kids like Pete and Pete turn out like two other Vermont entrepreneurs named Ben & Jerry.

I’m Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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