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A town and gown approach

Monmouth University works with local companies to nurture entrepreneurship

Since 2008, the Monmouth University Center for Entrepreneurship has been helping fledgling entrepreneurs move up to the next level, as well as assisting established businesses with valuable advice.

Prof. Joe McManus, Michael Veit and Zack Sandler receive a prize check. –

The Center made a big difference to Monmouth University students Michael Veit and Zack Sandler. They confronted a challenge that many students, across generations, have faced: how to stretch their limited financial resources. But instead of adopting the usual belt-tightening solution — cutting back to the bare minimum of purchases — they decided to try a high-tech approach: develop an app — called Save Bread — that could link up students with merchants that would offer them a special discount. To make it happen Veit, a computer science major, and Sandler, a music industry major, contacted Joseph McManus, director of the center and an assistant professor at the university’s Leon Hess Business School.

A central hub

“Our vision is to create a centralized hub for student discounts that many college students are unaware of,” said Veit. “As college students, we know how tough it is to budget and save money. A few bucks saved on food, drinks, and other items here and there goes a long way. Upon finding an abundance of student discounts, we wanted to be able to share it with college students. Although the app is specific to Monmouth students right now, we want to get it to as many schools as possible.”

The Center helped “us bring our idea into fruition and market it on a larger scale,” he added. “Professor McManus and a panel of accredited business professionals helped us refine our application and continue to help us make it the best that it can possibly be.” It was good enough to snag first place at this year’s “Hawktank” competition, a kind of “Shark Tank” for the university’s students, who present business pitches and get valuable advice. The top finishers also walk away with cash.

McManus

“Encouraging entrepreneurship is essential, given the significance of entrepreneurial activity within our economy,” McManus said. “Small businesses and new ventures are crucial for job creation. In addition, entrepreneurial ventures have proven vital to the creation of value within new products and services. Just think about some of the truly value creating businesses that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago. We Google information, we Uber places; businesses like these have created tremendous value for a host of stakeholders.”

Besides the Center for Entrepreneurship, the university supports local entrepreneurs by hosting on-campus TechLaunch events. An established mentoring and angel group, TechLaunch gives businesses — typically technology-focused enterprises generating revenue — to an audience of angels and other interested individuals, McManus said. “As the institution hosting the session, Monmouth places a student team in the program as well. To identify our team, we have a tech-focused pitch competition among student teams” where a representative is selected. Faculty and affiliates of the Center “also are able to provide mentoring and feedback to students as they prepare for these competitions and shape their business models,” he added. “They are also fun and engaging, playing into the competitiveness that entrepreneurs need to succeed.”

Encouraging entrepreneurship is essential, given the significance of entrepreneurial activity within our economy. Small businesses and new ventures are crucial for job creation. In addition, entrepreneurial ventures have proven vital to the creation of value within new products and services. Just think about some of the truly value creating businesses that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago. We Google information, we Uber places; businesses like these have created tremendous value for a host of stakeholders.

– Joseph McManus, director of the Monmouth University Center for Entrepreneurship

Monmouth University has taken a proactive stance when it comes to staying in contact with local businesses, said Donald M. Moliver, dean of the Hess School and professor of real estate at the university. “We interface with many companies,” he noted. “They contact us for guidance, and some — including owners, CEOS, and managers — take undergraduate or graduate entrepreneurial classes where they share their challenges with students. The feedback they get is brutally frank, and companies have told us that in many cases it’s even better than advice than they received from paid consultants.”

Everyone benefits

Moliver

Students also benefit, he added, because “it’s not a one-shot evaluation. The interface between students and business owners may go on for several weeks, and the students may be asked to develop business plans or other analyses. It’s a very hands-on process, where students draw on varied learning backgrounds, including accounting, real estate and law.”

The university is also developing a venture capital program for the Monmouth-area community, according to Moliver. “Students and alumni will have access to expertise and, potentially, capital,” he said. “It’s all part of the attempt to fuel the economic growth of Central New Jersey.”

Taking it to the streets

Seizing on a study that indicates first year college students required to take a financial literacy course in high school are significantly more likely to be financially responsible than peers who don’t, Leon Hess Business School at Monmouth University provides a no-cost, weekly series of financial literacy workshops to high school students.

Under the guidance of faculty and administrators, Monmouth University business majors and other students introduce the high school students to a university environment, and then educate them on the importance of financial planning, budgeting, and personal financial management. The targeted participants are freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior high school students in Monmouth and Ocean counties in New Jersey.

In addition to empowering and encouraging high school youth in New Jersey to be better prepared to control their personal finances to meet their life goals, the financial literacy program provides Monmouth University students with an opportunity to actively engage in applied learning through interaction with local community projects, according to the university.