Entrepreneur Lab Takes Students to Grubstake Breakfast

Posted: November 10, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

While the five entrepreneurial companies chosen for the Business Alliance of George Mason University’s quarterly Grubstake Breakfast last month learned a lot about investment strategy, some George Mason students were also getting an education.

Four students in the MBA Program in the School of Management had a unique behind-the-curtain look at the Grubstake Breakfast program process and earned course credit for their curiosity.

The students – Brian Butler, Patrick Williams, Steve Burden and Amy Knobl – participated in the Entrepreneur Honors Lab, a course that shadows the Grubstake Breakfast from the beginning of the application process to the actual event.

MBA students at Grubstake Breakfast
Ernest Stern, far left, president of the Business Alliance of George Mason University, with the MBA students in the Entrepreneurship Lab who attended the Grubstake Breakfast. From left, they are Brian Butler, Patrick Williams, Amy Knobl and Steve Burden.

The breakfast, which is a networking and investor’s forum, was held Oct. 20 and featured presentations from five companies seeking $250,000 to $2 million in investment capital. Local investment experts who are also members of the Business Alliance then offered feedback to the five companies.

The Entrepreneurship Lab runs for three semesters and is led by Jim Wolfe, entrepreneur in residence and assistant professor of management in the School of Management. As students move through their course work and grow in their understanding of the process, they begin to participate more in actual work and decision making.

The first semester is observing and shadowing the process. Students attended conference calls and reviewed applications, ranking each one along with the committee members, who are Business Alliance members and university partners. Though the students’ rankings were not counted in the actual tally, they were able to sit in on all the deliberations and compare their personal scores to the ones the committee chose.

Once the five presenters were chosen, the MBA students observed coaching sessions in which committee members helped the presenting companies optimize their presentation skills.

“It was really interesting to watch and listen to the presentations. It’s a lot of pressure. I learned that the people who were more convincing were the ones who really showed their passion in their product and company,” says Butler.

“One of the main pieces of advice was for the presenters not to ‘sell’ their product in the presentation, but to sell the investment opportunity,” adds Burden. “This, and other advice, was important to the companies – their presentations clearly improved in the week before the breakfast event.”

The final step of the lab for this semester was attending the breakfast, held at the McLean Hilton in Tyson’s Corner, Va., where Knobl introduced one of the five companies and all four students were able to see the progress the companies had made throughout the process.

Next semester, returning students will help with coaching. During the final semester, Wolfe hopes to have students participate in the selection process.

“The Entrepreneurship Lab is a classic ‘laboratory’ – a mix of theory applied to practice, with a chance for students to observe the results and figure out what works and what doesn’t,” says Wolfe. “We can also ‘test’ our hypotheses about what types of early stage companies will fare better in the ‘real world’ in a (relatively) controlled environment.”

According to Judy Costello, executive director of the Business Alliance, this was the first time the lab was used in conjunction with the Grubstake Breakfast. “I’ve received nothing but positive comments from our members regarding their interactions with this talented group of students,” she says. Business Alliance President Ernest Stern adds that the “live-lab” learning opportunity is a great example of the types of mutually beneficial business-education partnerships that are core to the Alliance’s mission.

“The students get a rare experience. Not just with start-up entrepreneurs, but with accountants, lawyers, and executives in very large firms interested in innovation and new developments. They also see new technologies struggling to emerge and be accepted in the marketplace. And with all that, we throw in a good breakfast,” says Wolfe.

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