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 One

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The common denominator between everyone competing in the Big Idea Competition is that we all have a dream. Not an idea, a dream. I know how that sounds given the title, but bare with me. We all have a dream to do great things, become successful, win first place, etc… The lab is designed to help you turn that dream into a reality by guiding you through the organizational process of our business. When Dr. Morris was lecturing I was reminded of a conversation I had at a place I used to work. An older and successful doctor asked me what my plans were. I told him I was going to start a Masters degree in Entrepreneurship. And he responded saying, “Why would you ever get a master’s in that? Aren’t you supposed to just go and try, and fail, and fail, and fail some more until you get it right?”

You can do that. You can go ahead and throw crud on the wall and see what sticks. You can make appointments with bankers to try to get financing relying solely on your wit and charm. You can put out a product and pray to whatever deity you prefer that people will buy it. You can do whatever you want because you live in the greatest time in history to start a business, where people are finding solutions to problems we didn’t know we had, and you can do business with almost anyone anywhere in the world! You can do all of those things, but here’s what you should do.

You should write a business plan. You should use that writing process to thoroughly vet your idea. You should evaluate the value of your ideas. You should figure out how to make money. You should formulate all the ways to make your ideas operational.

The business plan brings discipline, order, and logic to your thinking. The business plan can help you recruit talent. The business plan will help you get financing.  People who give you money expect to see some proof that you can deliver. The business plan is your best guess of how you will make a return on their investment.

I’ll leave with you with one story. I recently, no more than 4 months ago, had coffee with a local ‘entrepreneur’. He had just launched his website and was already getting orders for his product. He was telling me his ‘entrepreneurial story’ and said that he’d been writing his business plan for months until a friend told him to throw it out and start working.

He is no longer in business – crashed and burned in the span of 4 months.

A business plan will guide you through all of the decisions you are going to have to make. Being in a lab or having mentors or friends review your plan will punch holes in your plans where you didn’t know any existed. Professor Rossi says, “You need someone to tell you that your baby is ugly!” Dr. Morris says, “To be successful you will need to develop some thick skin.” It is a long and hard process, but it will be worth every edit and revision you make.

To see more on the Big Idea Business Plan Competition check out http://warrington.ufl.edu/centers/cei/bigidea/ and view our web series on the competition on our YouTube channel. And follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #UFBigIdea.

*Much of the content of this post is inspired by Dr. Morris’s lecture at the Big Idea Competition.

What is your Entrepre-New-Year’s-Resolution?

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January is here, again. And you are too. Like most folks, you have probably made some promises of self-improvement to yourself. The most common one every year is to exercise more. Many crowd favorites are to quit smoking, get a better job, save money, take a trip, and recycle more. The list goes on forever. We even have a board here in the CEI dedicated to them!

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What I have done, and as a result of this blog will recommend to you, is to segment your resolutions to make them more manageable and bite sized. So start with your life. Again, these include the above-mentioned resolutions. Then I broaden it to those around me, friends and family, co-workers, and classmates. Things like, “This year I resolve to make a donation the The Human Fund (http://festivusweb.com/festivus-the-human-fund.htm) for each of my co-worker’s birthdays”. But what about other aspects of your life? Hey – you’re a beautiful diamond with many facets, and each one deserves a chance to shine! Remember this is the UF Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation blog, so you can probably guess where this is headed.
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How are you going to improve on your entrepreneurial skills this year? Read more books? Attend more live conferences? Network more? Network better? Is this the year you launch your app? Will you resolve to love Twitter? [www.twitter.com/ufcei plug] File your patent? Incorporate your business? Get acquired? Are you finally going to take the leap and quit your job and become the great entrepreneur you were meant to be?!
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Tell us what your Entrepre-New-Year’s-Resolution is below. And if you don’t have one, or need help completing yours, we are here to help.
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