Arizona’s Future: Young Entrepreneurs

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In another edition of the feature “Arizona’s Future,” we take a look at an Arizona State University program geared at producing new entrepreneurs. Sidnee Peck is an entrepreneurship instructor at ASU, and she was recently chosen to speak at a White House event about the importance of teaching young entrepreneurs. Peck will talk about developing young business talent.

Ted Simons: In tonight's edition of Arizona's Future, we take a look at an ASU program aimed at producing new entrepreneurs. Joining us is Sidnee Peck, she's an entrepreneurship instructor at ASU, and she was recently chosen to speak at a White House event on the importance of developing young business talent. Good to have you here.

Sidnee Peck: Thank you.

Ted Simons: You're at this center, ASU's center for entrepreneurship. What is that?

Sidnee Peck: So it's actually a whole new thing that we have launched as of January. And it resides in the business school, so it's at the W.P. Carey School of Business, but it serves the entire ASU population as well as our Arizona business community. And the whole goal for the center for entrepreneurship is access and awareness for both students and community members. When you're a young entrepreneur you're and thinking about starting something, it's really overwhelming, really confusing, and a lot of times so intimidating that students might not start until their last semester of school. What we hope to create is an opportunity for students when they're freshmen and sophomores to come in and say hey what is this, how do I get connected into entrepreneurship?

Ted Simons: And so when they do come in as freshmen and sophomores and say hey, what is this, what is entrepreneurship? Give us a definition.

Sidnee Peck: Sure. So it's different to a lot of people. If you look at it from a University standpoint, President Crow through the new American University wants to embed entrepreneurship in everything that we do at the university. So from that standpoint it's creating something new, being innovative, being problem solvers. For more of a business school standpoint it's creating new ventures that solve a problem and create an economically viable venture that is taking both the risk and the skill of putting resources around that risk to make it happen.

Ted Simons: And with that in mind, can you teach entrepreneurship, or is it something that's in the DNA?

Sidnee Peck: So there's been a lot of research on this and there hasn't been any research that has pointed to a particular type of person or characteristic that defines an entrepreneur. It's a lot of different types of people, there's a lot of different types of businesses. So we don't know necessarily that we can teach you, we can take someone who has no desire to be an entrepreneur and turn you into an entrepreneur but we certainly can teach you the tools and methods, that if you have that desire and you really want to start something, make an impact, we can teach you some ways to start your business off on the right foot, we can connect you with the right resources, networks, and help you build that capability.

Ted Simons: So for something like risk taking and perseverance and just reimagining what's possible, it seems so creative and kind of out there, yet you're trying to focus in a classroom or in a teaching setting. How do you do that?

Sidnee Peck: Right, so our class I get a lot of pushback from students, and the students lose their minds when they take my class. It's so ambiguous and it's very scary because that's exactly what's happening. I give them a very general call, and it's to solve a problem and to create a solution for that. And they are to marshal their resources around that and make it happen. We also teach a course called creativity and innovation to teach them to think differently than we've basically been training them to think for their entire education up until this point, so yeah it's very different than a traditional educational setting, and we also have a lot of programs that support outside of the classroom to mimic what is it really like to take that risk?

Ted Simons: I want to get to those programs in a second some interest and stuff.

Sidnee Peck: Certainly.

Ted Simons: So when you deal with your students -- What -- Even the ones you can just tell they're off and running they're -- what trips them up the most?

Sidnee Peck: You know, a lot of times at this stage in life they're 19, 20, they're in college, it's the hard work.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Sidnee Peck: It's sticking to it.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Sidnee Peck: So we think maybe when we're 18 or 19 we have this idea and we're going to change the world, and this is the best thing and this is how I want to spend my life. And then we spend six months on it and realize this is really difficult. This is challenging, and it takes a lot of time. So it's helping them have those little starts and stops, until they find exactly where their passion lies. And to be honest, most of our students will not start businesses right out of school. Most of them will learn these skills, they'll go work somewhere for a little while to kind of get that experience, get a mentor, learn what it's like to be in that environment, and then they'll start their businesses five, ten years later.

Ted Simons: Interesting, because the segment we're trying to look at the future of Arizona, trying to find encouraging visions of the future, and these are the people that are going to do it, but you mention , 18, 19-- Sometimes maybe it's a good thing they don't have that perseverance quite yet and then when like you say, a few years later they look back and go oh, yeah, I learned all about that.

Sidnee Peck: Yeah, and so it's funny, we see both right. We see those who I would say please go get a job for a little while. You need to learn a little bit more. And there are some who know from the age of 17 they're running a business before they even get to ASU. And they use our tools, our programs to learn more tools and get more connections. But these kids are solid, they already know exactly what they want to do and the will run businesses. So it's all over the map, but what we try to do is just give them environment so they can connect the dots as they see fit.

Ted Simons: As far as working with executives and mentors and those sorts of things, describe those programs and those resources.

Sidnee Peck: Yeah so a lot of that is housed out of our entrepreneurship and innovation group, which is at SkySong. So that's our off campus resource, I'm the center for entrepreneurship, well not me, I represent the center for entrepreneurship on campus for our students. But we have a very strong, I want to say over 300 mentor network at SkySong, through that facility there. And then it's -- We get very close mentorship in specific programs. So I teach a class called lean launch where students take a business idea and very rapidly show it to customers, talk face-to-face with potential customers and really fine tune and pivot as needed that idea. They get very specific mentors in their industry and past entrepreneurs to guide them through that. So it's very -- Our mentorship within the center for entrepreneurship is targeted on students who have identified a business that they want to launch. From more of a practical standpoint we also have a lot of start-up companies and small businesses in the community who need students to help them with maybe a new go to market plan, they have a new product they want to launch, and so we bring together teams of students to work on those projects for a semester, and that's the way they get to interact with local entrepreneurs.

Ted Simons: And again, it sounds very encouraging and I know that just by the very nature of this class you've got a lot of go-getters there and you've got to kind of herd --

Sidnee Peck: Yes I do.

Ted Simons: Do you ever have to tell a kid, you just don't cut it? You just don't have it? I don't see it in ya.

Sidnee Peck: So I don't usually have to say anything. They find out for themselves if this is not the path for them.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Sidnee Peck: I have definitely had students come up to me at the end of a semester and say thank you Ms. Peck, I will never be an entrepreneur. And that's ok. That's victory to me because I helped them learn more about themselves, and understand that that wasn't the right path for them. And then I have students who will leave class and will start a business and will come back and say, this is the business I was working on in your class. So I don't -- It's not up to me. I don't tell them if it's a good idea or a bad idea, I show them what the experience is like, and then they're pretty bright and they find their way and understand this is or is not for me.

Ted Simons: Indeed and conversely, it must make you feel good to know that you really are launching some careers here, A, careers, but B, ways that could improve Arizona immensely down the road.

Sidnee Peck: Arizona is on a fast track to some really cool things. I'm watching things that are going to really hit media and become really big in the next five to ten years that students are just building in the early stages now. And it's really really exciting. We have a lot of really cool stories, companies, young students who have just come out of school who have really stuck with it for two or three years and you know that they are going to stay with it. They have financial backing, they have really strong products, so I think we're going to see some really awesome stories, and I'm just thankful that I get to work in this space every day.

Ted Simons: Is there a story that you can tell real quickly? Anything come -- pop in mind, top of mind, that we could be hearing about here shortly?

Sidnee Peck: Sure. So there's so many. One of my favorite students because I got to see him from a very early stage, is a student named Keith, and he has a company named Onvard. And Onvard started as he wanted to learn things online. He wanted to teach himself how to code, and there are all these resources online, but he didn't know which one was the best. So he started a website that essentially took all the resources to learn something and told you based on rankings which one was the best. We started that, there was no real revenue model there. So he learned and listened to his customers, he pivoted, and now that has turned into a training program for companies who have high turnover, so industries, maybe retail, places where there's a lot of training and he's now created a really easy-to-use platform for people to come in and train their new hires, and he just graduated last month.

Ted Simons: Wow.

Sidnee Peck: So he's done all this in his four years at ASU, and he's real exciting.

Ted Simons: Before we go, I know you also have a lot of awards and events and things. There's a spirit of enterprise awards, I think we've actually talked about that on this program, sun devil select and the sun devil igniter challenge. Quickly what are those?

Sidnee Peck: Sure, so the spirit of enterprise awards, we're in our 18th year. This recognizes Arizona businesses for strong ethics, energy, and excellence in entrepreneurship. That's every November, we recognize those businesses. The sun devil select is to focus on sun devil alumni who have launched or are running high-growth successful businesses globally. And then the sun devil igniter, which is our student centric program which will create a competition for students, one student team will win $50,000 investment and a board of four advisors to help them launch their company.

Ted Simons: Competition is always good, isn't it?

Sidnee Peck: Yes.

Ted Simons: Well congratulations, it sounds like you're doing great work and again, somewhere down the line you'll sit back and go I knew that kid when. Thank you for being here.

Sidnee Peck: Thank you so much.

Sidnee Peck:Entrepreneurship Instructor, Arizona State University;

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