Smith students at the schools Shady Grove campus pulled off a professional and very successful daylong entrepreneurship conference on Saturday, April 14, 2007. About 250 people attended the Turning Your Passion Into Profit entrepreneurship conference, organized by undergraduates in Smiths chapter of CEO (Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization) at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, Md.
Smith School Dean Howard Frank kicked off the conference, talking about his experience of starting and running businesses and comparing those endeavors to running a business school. He told the young audience the majority, students it could find success and achieve goals to start a business by practicing, and by learning from mistakes.
The conference featured several engaging speakers with various backgrounds, including a former Marine with his own career consulting firm, a founder of a private global investment firm, the head of a toy company, and a restaurateur.
JanSport co-founder Skip Yowell delivered the keynote address, sharing how he turned a passion for hiking into the No. 1-selling daypack in the world. Yowell showed photos from his mountain treks around the globe while weaving in key business advice. He encouraged entrepreneurs to be authentic and understand their core customers. He said entrepreneurs should take risks and not be afraid to make mistakes. He encouraged entrepreneurs to be creative and build good teams, and above all, he emphasized the importance of having fun and a true passion for what you do to find success.
After Yowell's keynote address, conference participants took part in smaller break-out sessions that offered in-depth looks at specific industries, markets or issues that face entrepreneurs.
In addition to engaging speakers, the Smith Schools Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship held a competition for conference-goers to informally present business ideas. The center heard eight pitches covering a wide variety of business ideas and industries. The winner of the competition and the $500 prize to implement his idea was Scottie Siu. He pitched a pre-loaded USB drive that would be issued by the university containing all of the information incoming students need including a self contained Web browser.
Pat Cleveland, associate dean for undergraduate programs, congratulated and credited students with the well-organized conference. This is totally due to the hard work and vision of our students. They're the ones that have done all the work. ... I just said go, guys, go and they have really made this all happen, she said.
The Robert H. Smith School of Business has the largest presence at the Universities at Shady Grove, with more than 400 undergraduate and MBA students attending classes. Last fall, the Smith School launched the Entrepreneurship Fellows Program exclusively at Shady Grove as one track of the larger Undergraduate Fellows Program. The fellows programs combine classroom work and co-curricular activities and hands-on experiences in several areas of concentration.
A few weeks into the fall semester, several of the Shady Grove Entrepreneurship Fellows decided to form a chapter of the CEO club. Almost immediately, they set their sights on organizing the conference.
All the members of the club worked so hard it was really a collaborative effort. They really went above and beyond, said Laila Wardak, a junior who served as chair of the logistics committee for the conference. She said the students were very optimistic when they planned the event, and the outcome exceeded their expectations.
Cleveland along with Luke Glasgow, Smith program director at Shady Grove, Jay Liwanag, assistant director of undergraduate programs in Shady Grove, and Tyser Teaching Fellow Oliver Schlake championed the club and the conference from the start and helped the students plan and publicize the event.
Wardak also said the club members were pleasantly surprised at how much people were willing to help the students. The students used their own connections, and some Smith School connections, to recruit speakers and line up catering and event supplies. They did a lot of guerilla marketing, hanging signs, sending e-mails, even creating FaceBook and MySpace pages about the event.
Next for the Smith CEO club? Wardak said club members are already busy with other entrepreneurship activities, including working with some Montgomery County high school students. She said they are celebrating the success of their first conference, but they are already talking about planning a larger conference next year.
Carrie Taschner, Office of Marketing Communications