Staff Spotlight: Laura Johnson

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I’m here with Laura Johnson, the Director of Entrepreneurship Degree Programs. Laura joined us just last semester in September. So let’s see how she’s doing.

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I’m here with Laura Johnson, the Director of Entrepreneurship Degree Programs. Laura joined us just last semester in September. So let’s see how she’s doing.

CEI: Hi Laura, Thanks for taking time to chat with me.

LAURA: Sure! Glad to do it.

CEI: So tell us your path to this directorship.

LAURA: I came to UF for undergrad, and after quite a few degree changes I graduated with a degree in event management.  After an internship in non-prifit event management, I realized that I liked the entrepreneurial aspects of it –the ambiguity, the creativity, the value creation, but that was about it. From there I went to work for the Chamber of Commerce in Gainesville in a sales position, which was great experience.  Everyone should have a sales job at some point.  My next job was at RTI Biologics in event management; I got to attend lots of trade shows and work with some great people.  RTI is a spin-off of UF, by the way.  About 5 years ago I did the MSE program when it was offered on the weekend. I loved it and got so much out it. It completely changed the way my brain works. I said to my husband about the person in my position now, “I would love to do that job!” So when it opened up, I applied, and now here I am! I like that we have the start-up feel in CEI even though we are part of a massive university.

CEI: What are some of differences in the program from when you completed it, to today and to where it’s going?

LAURA: I can’t really judge the traditional program, because I did the professional weekend program. …Now it’s been more tailored to start-up mentality, not just a business degree. So we have courses centered on entrepreneurship, like guerrilla marketing. Our experiential learning element has grown exponentially. The opportunities students have now on campus and in the start-up community is drastically different, there is a great scene for our students to take advantage of. The addition of Dr. Morris to the CEI is taking the center leaps and bounds beyond how awesome it already was into a world-class center.

CEI: What do you look for in students who participate in entrepreneurship programs?

LAURA: When students come into the office, from every different background, they all have a passionate streak in common. While they might not have a business in mind, they know they want something different than a traditional degree program.  We teach an entrepreneurial mindset and help students channel that energy. Anyone can be the right fit, we want people who work well in groups and can bring new ideas to the table. So if a team has a marketing major, a fine arts major, and a finance major, they could put together an incredible plan. It seems like most of the people interested in the program have entrepreneurs as parents or family members. That’s not a requirement but an interesting observation.

CEI: Do you think because of early exposure to the entrepreneurial mindset, it is hard for students to go into corporate?

LAURA: Yeah, I think when students see their parents go to work and they are the bosses or they run a company, you see the path as something different. You can define it yourself; you don’t need to fight your way up a ladder to get to the top.

CEI: Why are you drawn to entrepreneurship?

LAURA: I think I’m drawn to entrepreneurship because I naturally think differently. I like to solve problems and look at things from different angles. I like seeing the final product and figuring out how to work backwards to get there. That’s what entrepreneurship is all about – having a big goal and working towards that. Also, I think I have an authority problem. I have had jobs where I’ve had managers that I think I could do a better job than them and it made me crazy that I didn’t have the experience that corporate culture requires to move ahead.

CEI: So let’s say you were marooned on a deserted island and could only bring three things with you to survive. What would you bring?

LAURA:  A knife, a big one! I want a really big hat. That can also be used to collect water. It’s a really big hat. And some really sturdy twine to make nets. But how do I start a fire?  I rescind my hat answer and choose a Zippo lighter. Because yes it can start a fire, but it’s shiny so I can signal a plane. I’ll just make a hat out of palm fronds.

CEI: That’s a very entrepreneurial answer. You used resource leveraging, bootstrapping clearly, and opportunity assessment. Are these the kinds of things you all teach about in the entrepreneurship programs?

LAURA: Absolutely! So not only could you learn to start a business, but also how to survive on a deserted island! I’m telling you, it teaches you how to think differently.

CEI: That’s great, thanks so much for your time. How can someone contact you to learn about CEI programs?

LAURA: Email me at Laura.Johnson@warrington.ufl.edu to set up a time to tour the CEI and see if any of our programs are right for you. If you’re not in Gainesville we can Skype at UF_CEI.

CEI:  Thanks so much!

LAURA: Thanks, Jeff.

Big Idea Competition, Reflections of Day 3

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BeDifferentThe focus of tonight’s lab session was on the business model. Not the business plan, not the business concept, but something kind of in between.

As a refresher, the business plan is the full detailed document split up across about a dozen sections that is your “best guess” of how you will run every aspect of your business.  It’s pretty detailed. The business concept is not your tangible product or service, but the value you create. A lighting company’s product is lights and chandeliers, but their business concept is selling ambiance, mood, effecting the environment. You should be able to state your business concept in 6 words. And the first two are “We sell”.

So what is a business model? A business model asks 6 questions:

  • How do you create value?
  • Who do you create value for?
  • What is your internal advantage?
  • What is your external differentiation?
  • How will you make money?
  • What is your growth plan?

Let’s break those down, starting with “How do you create value?”

How do you create value? 

This might sound straightforward; you sell things. But the question doesn’t ask how do dollars get in your bank account, the questions is about creating value. Within your product/service mix you will find you have breadth and depth across your product lines.

The breadth refers to the kinds of products you have. So lets say you operate a simple dive shop and you have the following products:

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Each of these is a revenue driver, and independently contributes to the value you create.  The next concept is depth of your product mix, these are your unique offerings within the product lines. They can high-end or low-end variations, service contracts, rentals, etc… the more creative you get with the depth, the more opportunity you have to create value. Let’s put that into our breadth model and see how it looks.

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But what if you only have one product because you are a start-up based on a new gizmo? Add depth to that one product. Do so through a warranty or service contract, tech support, additional supplies or accessories to compliment it. Again, the more creative you can be, the more value you can create.

Who do you create value for?

The more you understand your customer and the buying cycle, then the better you can sell to them. Create a picture of the kinds of market segments you will be selling to, and you will knock this out of the park. Draw your ideal customer, take a picture of one, and get in their head. What steps to they take from becoming aware of your product, become interested, desiring the product, and lastly purchasing that product. Are your sales based on quick transactions or does your customer need a relationship with you or your sales force?

What is your internal advantage?

What are the capabilities your business has that are unique to you? If you had one extra dollar to spend on your company, where would you spend it? What makes you excellent? This is about you and your people. If everyone in your industry had the same resources, what internal capabilities are your strongest?

What is your external differentiation?

Differentiation compliments your internal advantage – externally. If your internal advantage is people skills, this might translate externally as a fantastic customer service department. If the internal advantage is marketing, then we should expect to see a pretty sophisticated marketing section.

How will the firm make money?

The basic question here is about volume and margins. The example in the lab was on college bars. A college bar can sell 25-cent beers all night by packing the bar to capacity and selling as many beers as they can as fast as they can. Whereas if you were to go to swanky hotel lounge, the same beer might be going for $7, and they expect you to order maybe one or two an hour. The key difference here is in high volume/ low margins vs. low volume/high margins. What are yours?

What is your growth plan?

Where is the company in 5 years? Are you expanding, selling, IPO? Sometimes this is called a speculation plan, because it is your hopes and dreams of your company’s future.

Good luck! To keep up with us live-tweeting the labs follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ufcei.

Big Idea Business Plan Competition, Day two

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entrepreneurshipThe second day of lab for the Big Idea Competition was full of excitement! Everyone walked in the room, and the air was electric. Dr. Morris opened the floor for questions before we began and a theme was clearly apparent. Each question was dancing around information; specifically what information is revealed when? And frankly, this is something you will see in every business class, pitch competition, and networking event. Entrepreneurs all have a little bit of self-infatuation. You need to have some to believe in yourself. And they believe that their idea for a business is the greatest one ever and it is going to change the world. And they are scared that you will steal it.

First of all, no one is going to like your idea as much as you do. While you may have the next world-changing gizmo, it really isn’t worth it to me to run with your idea and pass it off as my own. Ideas are easy; execution is hard. You should be confident that you can and will work harder on your idea than anyone else. You can’t measure passion, and you can’t beat it either.

Furthermore, this is a business plan lab. We are here to workshop sections of our plans. If you don’t bring in anything to workshop, you won’t be getting any better.  So participants are encouraged to share early and often.

Next we were asked, “What is the hardest part of the business plan to write?”

Nearly everyone said financials. That’s wrong. The answer is actually the Market Analysis. We want to see how well you know your customer. We know you know your product, that’s easy, but how well do you know the customers, their buying cycle, the suppliers, the distributors, and your competitors? The clearer you can convey that, and then much of the plan will fall into place. Now you might be wondering, where do I find such wonderful information? First, go out there and talk to people. Talk to customers and competitors and don’t be shy.

For information on the industry go to the library, librarians will love to help you do research. Seriously, it’s their job; you’ll make them happy to help you.  Also check out NAICS. This is the detailed data that will blow your socks off with information about business patterns and define your industry.

Lastly we discussed what a business concept is.  We used a dessert bar as an example. You may think they sell tiramisu, éclairs, and cakes. And while that is an accurate description of their products, it doesn’t capture their concept. A dessert bar sells indulgence. They sell you a chance to spoil yourself with rich flavors and delightful tastes that you know are bad for you.

I have a friend who has an event lighting company. He thought he was selling lights. I told him he was wrong. He sells ambience, he sells the mood, he sells the environment.  When you structure your business concept around the value you bring customer, the products will sell themselves.

Do you have a business concept? Need help figuring it out? We are here as a resource. Contact us directly or leave a note in the comments.