This past week, I got a chance to speak (not once but twice) on my experiences as an entrepreneur at State College of Florida (SCF) in Bradenton, Fla. SCF is a large school (over 27,000 students enrolled) and different from other schools in the area, it is an open-enrollment college whose average student age is 28 years old. Many of the students are working part-time or even full-time which is a much different situation than a typical university student. Given those dynamics, I must say I found (in both my classes) that the students were not only fun, focused and fully engaged in my presentations but were a delight to speak to. Maybe it’s because they have so many other things going on but maybe it’s because they simply wanted to be there. For whatever reasons, the classes really responded to both my presentations.
In the second class, the class professor (Clint Day) pointed out that the many obstacles that ISI has had to deal with over the past 18 years were fairly typical of successful entrepreneurs. Clint even drew the depiction of a roller coaster ride on the class whiteboard to reinforce the realities of the entrepreneurial life.
Since we met for over two hours, many topics were discussed in my presentation that included issues like building a quality business plan, identifying sources of capital and the value of a buy-sell agreement when setting up a business partnership. All key topics to nail down when trying to get a business off the ground. Also, many of the students were quite surprised when it was disclosed that I owned only 17.5% of the company when ISI first got started in 1996 due to the financing arrangement with the private investment group (and my business partner). The class also seemed intrigued that it took almost two years for me to gain 100% ownership of ISI and not without a painful, almost fatal partnership divorce.
Other topics that the SCF students seemed to have the most interest (no surprise here) in was the embezzlement crisis of 2003 (discovery of $250,000 employee theft) and the summer from hell in 2007 (when we lost 80% of ISI's sales team) Those are two stories with a lot of interesting drama for sure but it also seems a lot of people (students included) like to hear a good inspirational story every once in a while. The SCF students also seemed to appreciate ISI’s ability to use major crisis to not only survive in the most difficult times but actually thrive. In these tough times, people like to hear about the positive stories to come out of the economic crisis.
I always get energized by these kinds of presentations with college students because they are still early on in their careers and I have the opportunity to share my experience with a captive audience. Many of them may go on to start their own businesses one day and I think that's why they respond so enthusiastically. While my practical lessons may not be rocket science, they can have a powerful impact on a fledgling business.