It’s been a summer of insight and empowerment for 18 budding businesspeople taking part in Fordham’s new “boot camp” for entrepreneurs.
The Fordham Accelerator for Business, launched at the end of May by the Graduate School of Business Administration, is the first program of its kind at Fordham: a hands-on exercise in turning a business idea into a business proposal. Meeting once a week, students get guidance from faculty and business leaders from the New York area while working in groups of three to develop their business ideas.
“It gave us realistic expectations of what we need to do” to launch a business, said one of the students, John O’Malley, a marketing instructor at New York University and student in Fordham’s Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education.
The course is applied rather than theoretical, said Jean Howard, a consultant and entrepreneur who is director of the program. Students are learning about analyzing opportunities, identifying a market, securing funding, and devising a company’s “elevator pitch,” among other practices that will help their ventures succeed.
The program was designed to be “a service to the community as much as it was a course for credit,” said Howard, noting its low tuition and possibilities for creating businesses and fostering economic development.
Students will present their business proposals on Tuesday, Aug. 2, before an audience that includes seasoned entrepreneurs. In the program’s next phases, students will receive further coaching, draw up business plans or meet with potential investors, Howard said.
Unlike business incubators, which support nascent companies that already have clients and revenues, the Fordham Accelerator for Business helps students determine whether an idea can become a company in the first place.
“I came in with an idea that’s been honed significantly,” said Jeff Goldberg, GBA ’06, who works in technology and marketing. “Structuring what would ordinarily be an unstructured exercise … has been really helpful.”
The course includes written assignments and readings, as well as in-class presentations like the one given on July 26 by Eric Apse, a partner in the IBM Venture Capital Group, who spoke about how entrepreneurs can win business from his company. It’s essential that they understand the marketplace and how they’ll fit in with IBM’s business, he said.
“When we talk to a company, they need to know in excruciating detail how they can go to market with IBM,” he said. Among his other advice: “Try to get a customer as soon as possible.”
“That’s the thing that always adds the most credibility,” he said. “That’s the first thing I ask, is who your customers are. The second question I always ask is, who’s your competition? Who do you think your competition is?”
Students range from Fordham undergraduates to working professionals with decades of experience. One participant, GBA student Chris McGrath, said he now has “10 times more questions that I need to answer,” and has learned other valuable lessons.
“What this has taught me is (that) it’s all about networking and partnership and basically finding the best people, the best team, you can possibly assemble,” he said.
– Chris Gosier