The Charger Blog

Poised, Entrepreneurial, and Committed to Creating Businesses that Matter

Students in the University of New Haven's "Introduction to Business and Entrepreneurship" course spent a semester preparing for the Nicholson Business Plan Competition and Expo, delving deeply into creating viable business plans, and simulating what it would take to launch their own company.

February 3, 2020

By Jackie Hennessey, contributing writer

Image of business students at expo.
(L-R) Dean Brian Kench, Abbey Perrin '23, Miranda Iannuzzi '21, Brooke Cullen '23, Francesca Feretich '21, Jordan Wischhusen '23, and Michael Driscoll '87 EMBA.

As part of their "Introduction to Business and Entrepreneurship" class, Brooke Cullen '23 and her teammates were challenged to come up with a concept for a business that would solve a problem. As they brainstormed, they started to think about places where fresh vegetables and fruits were in short supply, and poverty and obesity rates were very high.

"We talked about how a family of four can get fast food for $10-$15, but it costs a lot more for healthy fruits and vegetables," says Cullen, a national security major. "By creating greenhouses in places in need of healthy affordable food, we could bring costs way down."

They decided to create a plan to establish an expansive indoor space, featuring a greenhouse, where fresh produce would be grown year-round, and a market for it to be sold. It would be located in Memphis, Tennessee.

"By creating greenhouses in places in need of healthy affordable food, we could bring costs way down."Brooke Cullen '23

"We decided on Memphis because it's ranked third in the nation in obesity and in the top ten for people living below the poverty line," explains Francesca Feretich '20, a paramedicine major. "By growing our produce in the same place where we sell it, we would cut out the shipping costs, and the produce costs would be far lower than the U.S. average."

They did extensive research, talking with officials at the University of Memphis' agricultural college and leaders at Fluence, an Austin-based biotechnology firm that "develops a white light that mimics sunlight and designs systems to enable more sustainable forms of crop production."

‘I'm enormously impressed'

The group was one of seven teams – chosen by the students and professor in each class section – vying for the coveted Nicholson Cup. They pitched their ideas at the Nicholson Business Plan Competition and Expo to a panel of three judges: Jan L. Jones, Ph.D., lecturer and program coordinator of the hospitality and tourism department; Josephine Moran '01 M.S., '19 EMBA, executive vice president and head of retail banking at Provident Bank, chair of the College of Business advisory board, and Board of Governors member; and Craig Douglas '82 MBA, treasury consultant and former vice president at Stanley Black & Decker, Inc.

Student teams also took part in a poster competition, presenting their work to members of the College of Business Advisory Board. The program honors the late Alexander Nicholson Jr. '63 A.S., '65, '78 EMBA, a longtime University supporter and former member of the Board of Governors who owned and operated a successful insurance agency.

"I'm enormously impressed by the maturity, awareness, insight, and the global thinking these students have," says Michael Davis, '86 MBA, a retired Nestlé executive now directing the University's Executive MBA program, who was one of the judges of the poster competition. "These incubation zone activities are not something that will go away; this is the future. Many of these individuals will create their own start-up or be employed by a start-up, and it's fantastic that they have experiences like this."

"An entrepreneurial mindset can be applied to whatever they decide to do."Brian A. Marks, J.D., Ph.D.

The "Introduction to Business and Entrepreneurship" course – a requirement in the College of Business – was opened for the first time last fall to students from across the University, and seven sections quickly filled. This spring, there are ten sections.

"Our focus is entrepreneurship and innovation, showing students that no matter what field they are in, no matter what school or college they are part of, they live in an innovative environment and world, and an entrepreneurial mindset can be applied to whatever they decide to do," says Brian A. Marks, J.D., Ph.D., a senior lecturer in business analytics, executive director of the entrepreneurship and innovation program, and coordinator of the course and its culminating competition and expo event.

‘I learned so much'

Abbey Perrin '23, a music and sound recording major who worked on the greenhouse/market idea, liked collaborating on the project with her team, which included students majoring in business management, sport management, health sciences, and national security. "I learned so much in this course," she says.

Among the other ideas, students developed business plans for a food truck offering an array of healthy eating options, an app that would allow drivers to access maps and find locations in remote places when they can't access Wi-Fi, and a hydroelectric generator that could power cargo ships.

Marino Falcone '23, a marketing major, got the idea for "Hybrid Voyage," the hydroelectric generator for cargo ships at his seaside home in New York as he watched many massive cargo ships pass by. He began to think about their greenhouse gas emissions and how hydropower could be used as a more environmentally friendly alternative.

Image of business students at expo.
Michael Davis '86 MBA interacts with students.

"You look deeper into things than you normally would," Falcone says of the experience. "We started to forget that this was a class. We were thinking of it as our own business."

"This course really makes you think," adds Falcone's teammate Lee Jones '23, a music and sound recording major. "Whenever we'd pitch ideas to our professor, she'd question us and challenge us. She'd ask us 'how will this work' or .why is there a need for it?'"

‘It's amazing'

Dean Brian Kench said the experience sharpens first-year College of Business students' skills in cross-disciplinary teamwork (which includes students from all colleges at the University), research, and communication. "They're able to identify a problem, come up with a solution, and sell that to an investor," he says.

When prospective students and their parents visit the University he says one of the most resonant moments is when he tells them "students in the College of Business will know how to write a business plan by the end of their first year," says Dean Kench. "That is not true of all business schools."

"They believe in finding ways to create businesses that will help their fellow man. It's amazing."Armando Rodriguez, Ph.D.

At the Business Plan Pitch Competition, all the participating students – and the audience – had the chance to act as angel investors, using an app to determine which portion of a fictitious $100,000 they would invest in the seven businesses being pitched. The app's algorithm determined which team made the most astute investment decisions. The audience and the judges agreed upon the two teams.

At the night's end, to rousing applause, the Greenhouse Groceries team raised the Nicholson Cup. "Their work ethic was unbelievable," said their professor Michael Driscoll '87 EMBA, executive-in-residence in economics and business analytics. "They researched it all and built the concept for this business from the bottom up."

Winning-team member Jordan Wischhusen '23, a sport management major, says they were continually inspired and motivated by Professor Driscoll and by their mission to make healthy food affordable and accessible. "We really care about what our business is trying to do," she says.

"What impressed me the most is the genuine commitment students had to the socially beneficial aspects of their business," says Armando Rodriguez, Ph.D., professor and chair of the economics and business analytics department. "They believe in finding ways to create businesses that will help their fellow man. It's amazing."