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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Mentors To Guide Biz Students in 'First Look Challenge'

By Brendan O'Hallarn

First-year business students at Old Dominion University are taking their first steps as future business tycoons through an innovative assignment: Create a business plan for your start-up idea.

The project is now required for all students planning to major in business. The students also are eligible to compete with one another in the "First Look Challenge," which provides prizes for the winning teams.

The requirement helps expose freshmen to the different aspects of starting a business and immerses them in Old Dominion's entrepreneurial culture, which received a major boost three years ago through the gift of $11 million by alumnus Mark Strome.

"Our goal is to help students accelerate their success," said Jeff Tanner, dean of the Strome College of Business, the architect of the requirement. "This competition does that because they quickly learn if they really want to study business, and they also get a broad view of what it takes to be successful. That will translate into better performance in their classes later."

Ryan Klinger, an assistant professor of management who teaches one of the sections of Introduction to Contemporary Business, said an assignment to create a business plan is a unique challenge for freshmen still finding their bearings at the university.

"We kind of throw them into the deep end," Klinger said. "Students realize that starting a business involves much more than coming up with that great idea."

While they thrash around in the "deep end" with the assignment, freshmen will receive some life preservers on Monday, Feb. 13. From 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the North Café of Webb University Center, they can participate in a resource fair featuring dozens of local business professionals who work with entrepreneurs.

The fair, open to any Old Dominion student, will provide an opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to talk to business owners, accountants, angel investors and fellow students who have started businesses.

"Not many universities offer this as a 100-level teaching assignment," Klinger said. "This practical hands-on experience is really helpful for them as they continue on with their business education."

Klinger said students might enter ODU thinking they want to pursue accounting, marketing or another business emphasis. Exposure to all of these subjects "gives them an idea of how these skills are interconnected and may help a student decide to major in something else."

Students who are not intrinsically motivated to become business leaders have another enticement to participate in the First Look Challenge: Cold hard cash.

Those who enter the competition will be grouped into teams. After presentations in April, prizes of $500 per student will be provided to the winning team by Wells Fargo.

Klinger said the assignment is a perfect fit for the mission of ODU's Strome Entrepreneurial Center.

"Last semester, we had over 70 local business experts and entrepreneurs as judges, and 75 student teams competed," Klinger said. "Not only did three teams win cash prizes, but several teams were approached by angel investors at the competition and offered seed money to pursue their ideas."

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