All 13 students were skeptical and nervous at the start of Dollar Enterprise, a hands-on introduction to entrepreneurship offered at N.C. A&T for the first time this fall.
“They lacked confidence,” Dr. Kathleen Liang, who teaches the course, said in late October, “but if you walk into my classroom today, you will notice a big difference in competence and confidence. The individual growth is significant, and we aren’t finished yet.”
Students in the course learned by doing, with each student assigned to one of three teams. Each team came up with a product, drafted a business plan, started a campus business and ran that business for a month. Liang provides the start-up money.
“I give each student a dollar, that’s why the course is called Dollar Enterprise,” said Liang, the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Professor in Sustainable Community-Based Food Systems. Liang came to the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences in August 2015 from the University of Vermont, where she had started teaching the course in 2005.
The Dollar Enterprise course offers an interdisciplinary student learning experience supported by the CAES, and the colleges of Business and Engineering.
The three A&T teams made lollipops, cookies and copper jewelry, respectively, and sold those products at tables outside Williams Dining Hall at select times in September and October.
The candy team melted and molded hard candies into lollipops of different shapes, including hearts and roses. The biggest challenge for team member Nia James, a junior majoring in agribusiness and food industry management, was selling the lollipops. “I have social anxiety, so just being out there trying to sell candy was scary for me, but I was able to overcome that,” James said. “It’s important for people to learn how to present themselves and be professional.”
The cookie team members had never baked before and got off to a rocky start in the kitchen. They burned their first batch of cookies. On their second try, eight of the 12 cookies were good enough to sell. By the end of the month, they were consistently making 18 delicious cookies at a time.
The jewelry group had no material costs thanks to a donation of copper wire from Dr. Abolghasem Shahbazi, interim chairman of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Design. The group stripped the plastic covering from the wire, polished the copper and shaped it into bracelets, charms and rings at a University Farm workshop.
Rhyne Cureton, a junior majoring in agricultural education, was a member of the team that made copper jewelry. He discovered a passion for making jewelry and took pride in his team’s sustainability through reuse of an existing material. Perhaps most importantly, he gained confidence to try other new things. “Doing something that I’d never done before wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be,” Cureton says.
Operating their businesses through Oct. 13, the three teams paid back Liang her initial investment of $13 and, on top of that, collectively made a profit of $659.76, which was donated to the Black Child Development Institute of Greensboro, the Out of the Garden Project and the local chapter of Feeding America.
In addition to generating profits, the businesses taught important lessons about entrepreneurship, lessons that apply to other fields as well as business, according to Liang.
“Entrepreneurship is not only about creating a business,” Liang said. “Entrepreneurship is about being creative and innovative in an environment where you have to live with limited resources. People can still be successful if they can create new opportunities within existing boundaries. That’s what entrepreneurship is to me.”