As most people know (or at least we hope), the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is a statewide provider of management consulting and business education for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. As a part of a nationwide network of SBDC programs, the UGA SBDC has offices in 17 locations across the state. With graduate business education and backgrounds in many different fields, our consultants help business owners analyze all aspects of their business to identify areas for management improvement and business growth.
Not only does the SBDC enjoy helping educate small business owners and helping their businesses grow, but we also value our contribution to UGA’s goal of enhancing both undergraduate and graduate education.
In October of 2017, Michael Myers, UGA SBDC in Athens Business Consultant, was approached by the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication’s New Media Institute after one of the students in the Emerging Media Masters program, J. Ashley Panter, who also works for the UGA SBDC, suggested that the class use the SBDC’s experienced business consultants as a resource to provide a short workshop to assist the students with the steps necessary to bring their products to market.
The Emerging Media Masters program focuses on interactive digital media and encompasses: design, development, digital storytelling, social strategy, data analytics, brand identity, user research, product ideation, project management, and emerging technologies.
Through the course of the program, the students build onto the ideas and project developed during their first semester. One of the last classes in their require coursework is their “Capstone” class. This class requires the completion and presentation of a fully formed new media system, technology, or product. They take the projects they’ve been working on and fine-tune their products/services, develop a prototype, create business plan, and develop a marketing plan… essentially a complete package that the students can use to later commercialize their products.
When Myers was asked to assist with the workshop, he jumped at the opportunity to help young entrepreneurs. Myers developed the workshop to help the students better understand a lean startup plan (also known as a Business Canvas Model), a business plan, and how to they could commercialize their capstone projects after the program if they desired.
The Business Model Canvas (BMC) is a lean start-up process that was born out of a collaboration led by Alexander Osterwalder. Osterwalder and his collaborators set out to simply the business planning process by reducing it a one page document. According to Myers, the BMC doesn’t replace a Business Plan, but is rather an additional step in the planning process to help prevent startup failure.
Prior to the BMC, the decades old formula for a startup was to write a business plan, pitch it to investors, assemble a team, introduce a product, and start selling as hard as you can. Somewhere in this sequence of events, your business would probably suffer a fatal setback. And as a startup, the odds aren’t with you. According to research by Harvard University’s Shikhar Ghosh, 75% of all start-ups fail. Utilizing the BMC in the planning process makes the process of starting a company less risky as it outlines the basic fundamentals of your business, but doesn’t draw hard lines. Instead, the BMC allows your business to experiment and build your business based upon feedback and trial and error rather than “gut instinct” and passion, which can sometimes overpower logic and cause mistakes. Although the methodology is just a few years old, its concepts—such as “minimum viable product” and “pivoting”—have quickly taken root in the start-up world. “With the BMC, small business owners basically accept that all they have on day one is a series of untested hypotheses, which are basically good guesses. So instead of them wasting time writing an intricate business plan for a unique startup, they summarize their hypotheses in a one page document called the Business Model Canvas and build their business from there. It’s a more successful approach to answering the hard questions,” says Myers.
Before the Capstone Workshop, the students were planning to build out an old fashion business plan, but with the help of Myers, the students were able to lay out their ideas on one sheet of paper, brainstorm, resolve problem areas, and then move to the next step of the business planning process more smoothly.
In addition to introducing the students to the Business Model Canvas, Myers gave the students the opportunity to pitch their products/services in under three minutes and receive honest feedback from someone who has been around the business world for many years and has seen the warning signs for those startups that fail rather than soar.
“Getting to show our projects to Michael and the UGA SBDC when the project prototypes were in the very beginning iterations was incredibly valuable to us throughout our capstone journey,” said Melanie Charyton, one of the students in the Capstone class.
“It was great to have a discussion with someone who had never seen our projects before and someone who could provide insight that forced us to address potential usability issues, our target market and other specific factors of our business models. As someone who works with small businesses every day, Michael gave us guidance on future challenges and market gaps that our products or services could address,” said Charyton.
Many of the students agreed that the information and feedback he provided remained in their minds throughout the remainder of their Emerging Media Capstone journey.
“He even came to our final presentation day, SLAM, to see the final products. His advice and support from the beginning was a resource that I believe truly made a difference in our final capstone projects,” said Charyton.
Since the Capstone Workshop, two of the students in the class have started their own businesses and both have returned to the UGA SBDC to consult with Michael on business planning and help shaping a strategic plan for the future.
Other students, J. Ashley Panter (ParkEasy Athens) and Melanie Charyton (Twenty Young Things), plan to fine-tune their projects, identify potential investors, and hopefully commercialize their apps and bring them to market. In fact, both Myers and UGA SBDC Office of Minority Business Development Center Business Consultant, Bart Njoku-Obi have worked with Panter outside of the class to develop a strong sales pitch, product roadmap, and have shared knowledge as to resources where Panter could potentially seek angel investors to help fund the development of her app to later sell.
Clint Owens, one of the Emerging Media students who started his business after the program, now owns BTF Production Studio. He plans to use the UGA SBDC’s research database services to help him determine target demographic data to expand his potential clientele. He also plans to work with Myers to improve his pricing model and grow his general business knowledge to make him a smarter business owner.
Grace Ferzely, another Emerging Media student in the Capstone class who started a business, has benefited the most from the UGA SBDC consulting services. “When I first heard about the opportunity for the class to have our pitch critiqued by a business consultant, I felt very intimidated because this was the first time I had talk about my business to someone who didn’t know me and had never heard of SHADES OF GRACE,” said Ferzely. “Michael ended up giving me excellent advice, helping me hone in on the services and mission of my business. When Mike came to our end-of-program showcase, he encouraged me to come by his office so he could continue to assist me with making SHADES OF GRACE a reality.”
Since graduation, Mike has been instrumental in helping Ferzely turn SHADES OF GRACE into a legitimate business. “From helping me file the LLC paperwork, assisting with business plan inquiries, and offering me so much helpful advice to implement now and in the future… it’s clear that Mike is a true cheerleader of my work. His encouragement and assistance has been invaluable to SHADES OF GRACE. I’m so lucky to have the help of Mike and the entire UGA SBDC as I continue to grow my business.”
When asked about the experience of working with students and helping young entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground, according to Myers, it was just as much of a learning opportunity for him as it was for the students.
“For me, it was truly a learning opportunity. The amount of knowledge and creativity these kids had was unbelievable. I got the opportunity to see how each student used their coursework throughout the Emerging Media program to create new innovative products and services that took such a unique approach on industries that were becoming stale. You had one student with a parking app that had multiple revenue streams and you could tell was built with the user in mind unlike your typical parking meter app. Then, you had another student taking a different approach to journalism and using multimedia and high-tech videography to tell stories differently. And another student who made an app for educating kids at the zoo.”
“I’m just thankful for the opportunity to share my knowledge with the class and hopefully, they learned as much from me just as I learned from them.”
Although the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center doesn’t often get the chance to work with students (outside of our internship/assistantship and Medical Practice Management programs), having the opportunity to shape young entrepreneurs and help them achieve their dream and become successful business owners was extremely rewarding. We can’t wait to see these business grow and to continue to be a resource for these students and help educate other entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses.
(Source: J. Ashley Panter, Marketing Manager, UGA SBDC)