For years, an idea lay dormant in Divya Cantor’s mind as hectic days rushed into hectic months and years. The managing partner of Louisville OB/GYN, Cantor is the quintessential busy professional—seeing patients each day, delivering babies, caring for two children, and being wife to her equally busy husband, David, managing partner for a law firm.
Then an assignment brought the idea out of hibernation.
The assignment was part of the very first class Cantor took in the University of Louisville’s Integrative MBA program, known as the MBA for Entrepreneurial Thinking, or simply IMBA. She had decided to enroll in May 2006 to learn how to improve the business side of her medical practice.
“We were told to try to think of something that isn’t quite right in our area of expertise, our experience or one of our hobbies—something we think is missing or causes pain that could be avoided with our idea.”
Less than two years later, Cantor’s idea, MaternaTRAC, has a patent pending and is in the prototype stage. If it proves viable, Cantor will have yet another title, that of entrepreneur.
The device will give physicians an accurate, nonsubjective way to monitor changes in a woman’s cervix as she progresses through labor. Currently, the protocol calls for doctors to do an examination using two fingers to measure how far a woman is dilated. Obviously, two fingers of a petite woman are different from the same two fingers of a hefty man.
Cantor says she “really hopes she has something,” but if not, she has no regrets for having gone through the program because she made great contacts, learned a lot, and is “better off today than last year.”
She and her patients may be even better off soon because of a recent project called Integrative Operations Strategies, through which patient wait times could be reduced by altering patient flow. “Who likes to wait around at the doctor’s office?” Cantor says.
Working with her fellow students has been one of the unexpected perks from the IMBA program for Cantor. “The class is very nonhomogenous with respect to educational background and current careers. I’ve really enjoyed learning from my classmates; they have taught me as much as my professors. It was a fabulous surprise and a huge bonus,” says Cantor.
“IMBA is very much a lock-step program,” she says. “You go through two years with the same people and spend a lot of time doing projects in teams. This experience could not be fulfilled from an online course.”
One aspect of the program wasn’t a surprise for Cantor. She chose the program in part because it was not a traditional MBA program and because of the program’s reputation.
“MBA programs can almost be a dime a dozen,” she acknowledges. “It matters where your degree comes from. That plays a big role in its credibility. The U of L IMBA program has a really fine reputation.”
In fact, the program was named the national Model MBA Entrepreneurship program by the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. A joint survey by Entrepreneur magazine and The Princeton Review placed the program in the top 10 graduate entrepreneurship programs in the U.S. Fortune Small Business named the school one of 26 of America’s best colleges for entrepreneurs. For three years running (2006-2008), U.S. News & World Report placed the U of L College of Business and its undergraduate business program in the top 7 percent of all undergraduate business programs in the nation. Its undergraduate entrepreneurship program was ranked 19th in the nation in 2007 and 17th in 2008.
“We want to instill entrepreneurial thinking skills in all of our students,” says Van G. H. Clouse, Ph.D., the Cobb Family professor of Entrepreneurship at U of L and director of IMBA. “We want to give students the ability to identify, research, develop, and pursue opportunities no matter where those opportunities might occur. We look at that broadly. It can happen in a new venture start-up, but we firmly believe it can also happen in an established organization and in government.”
To do this, students go through a prescribed set of courses as a class. The process takes two years.
Students progress from a class called Opportunity Discover, during which they keep a journal of possible ideas, to classes that teach them how to research an idea, write a business plan, and present that plan to potential investors. Intermingled with these classes is the more traditional MBA fare such as accounting, finance, economics, operations, and marketing.
Hatching a Business
Throughout the process, students are divided into teams for projects, both small and large. Toward the end, they select one opportunity, write a business plan, and present that plan to actual investors.
The best go on to business-plan competitions, where they compete for prize money and the chance to meet with potential investors and business leaders. Joel Adams, a 2007 graduate, was one of those.
Since September, Adams has been CEO of RJS, LLC, a new company that is producing a citrus-based liqueur called Rhythm. It is infused with energy-enhancing components, such as those in energy drinks, and mixes well with fruits and other liquor.
The idea went through the IMBA process. Then, after presenting their business plan to the panel of CEOs and venture capitalists, Adams and his team were not chosen to go to the business-plan competition. The experts felt their plan had too many holes.
“So what now?” Adams remembers thinking. “We wanted to rewrite our plan and re-present it to the judges.” The judges agreed.
After the April competition, two members of the original team dropped out, but Adams and Stephen Herron wanted to go forward. Amid several changes in membership, what eventually became a team of four, they worked through the summer addressing the problems the judges had pointed out.
“We didn’t give up,” Adams says proudly. “We ended up at the Aleris competition and won. It was a dramatic turnaround from April.” The $8,000 prize money was tripled if it was used for an actual start-up. Adams and his team suddenly had $24,000 to invest in their new company. They went on to other competitions, including the “best of the best,” a competition known as Moot Corp in Austin, Texas, where they placed 11th among 36 teams from all over the world.
“It’s an exciting time for us right now,” Adams says. “We are getting our product on the shelf and have an investor committed to working with us.”
Adams is unusual in one regard, however: he actually started a company. Only 15-20 percent of IMBA graduates do so immediately after graduating, according to Clouse. Others do so a few years later when opportunity and circumstances come together.
Intrapreneurs within Companies
“We believe everyone can be an entrepreneurial thinker,” says Clouse. “Not everyone is cut out to launch their own business, but the skill set applies to everyone. Most people stay in career tracks within established organizations, but they are able to do new things for those organizations.”
Todd Skaggs is a good example. He is what is known as an intrapreneur, someone who applies entrepreneurial thinking within an established company.
Skaggs is the facility manager of the largest distribution center for Linens ’n Things, a job he likes and intends to keep until he is able to move up in the company.
“As companies find ways to grow, they are going to look for people to put in leadership roles,” he says. “They want people who can think like they own the business rather than being a straight manager. A lot of what I’m learning can be transferred to a regular business.”
Skaggs, who will graduate in May, says he is already seeing benefits from his education.
“I notice that the people I report to are giving me projects they might not have offered otherwise,” he says. “I suspect they are testing the waters and seeing how I will perform.”
If time management is part of that performance, Skaggs feels certain he will excel. He juggles classes and 40-50 hours at work, referees football, and serves on the board of directors of the Shepherdsville Chamber of Commerce. He also has a family, and as he says, “the grass still needs mowing.”
“You learn good time management,” he says. “You learn the value of a solid uninterrupted hour with your family. You learn how to make the best use of time.”
The nontraditional student—nine years in the Navy and several more in business before starting the program—says he is also more open to new ideas and change.
“There is a tendency when you’re at a company to think there is no reason to change,” he says. “But being exposed to 20 different people with different career paths and different ways of doing things has opened my eyes. I’m different now than when I started.
“The graduate school experience defines the person. It is not about going to school and getting a grade. It is about having the skills to perform and excel wherever you choose to do that.”
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT IMBA
To learn more about IMBA, go online to
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
They are often called economic fuel, job producers, and the foundation of our economy. Here are a few statistics that point out how important entrepreneurs are.
Some 95 percent of Kentucky’s 103,614 businesses are defined as small businesses, with 50 or fewer employees. Kentucky’s small-business payroll, $19.4 billion, represented 38.2 percent of the $50.8 billion total in 2006, further proving the importance of small business to the state’s economy. (Source: www.Kentucky.gov)
The majority of new jobs are created by entrepreneurs and small businesses. Small high-growth companies account for 70 percent of economic growth over last decade.
Entrepreneurship drives economic competitiveness at the local, state, and global levels. More than one-third of the difference in national economic growth may be due to difference in entrepreneurial activity.
Companies with fewer than 20 employees created most of the jobs in the past decade, and now more than half of the American work force is employed by companies with fewer than 500 employees.
Seven of 10 high school students want to start their own business. Eighty-five percent of the high school students said the nation’s schools should do more to teach about entrepreneurship and starting a business. (Source: Gallup Poll)
Minorities own 15.1 percent of all U.S. businesses, or more than 3 million firms, and 99 percent of these firms are small businesses. (Source: Dynamics of Minority-Owned Employer Establishments, 1999-2001, February 2005)
Women own 10.6 million businesses in the United States. They employ 19.1 million workers—that’s one in every seven employees. Their businesses account for $2.5 trillion in annual sales. (The Center for Women’s Business Research, December 2004)
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: MINOR IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP FOR UNDERGRADS
To read about another program U of L offers, a minor in entrepreneurship for undergraduate students, go to entrepreneurship.