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Business Trends: Idea mill

Education, entrepreneurship work side by side in graduate program

Vetting a business idea involves discussion, aided by a mentor to lead the way. - Illustration by Laura Lee Dobson/seafood images Shutterstock
By Joanne Friedrick
October 05, 2011

Some people go to work, while others create the workplace. And entrepreneurs, who are known for doing the latter, are credited with taking on the risk of starting something new in the hopes of one day turning a profit.

While some well-known entrepreneurs such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have eschewed a college degree to reach their goals, others with a similar bent have chosen to enroll in and graduate from entrepreneurship programs to maximize their ability to launch and sustain their business ideas.

Martin Reed, who owns I Love Blue Sea in San Francisco, is a graduate of the University of Arizona and the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship. I Love Blue Sea is a sustainable seafood business launched in early 2010 that direct-ships product to both consumers who order online as well as wholesale accounts such as restaurants. The business has been growing steadily, says Reed, registering 10 to 15 percent sales increases each month, and up 2,500 percent this August over the same month last year.

Entrepreneurship programs typically fall into two categories: Those that act as service centers for entrepreneurs and those that are more education-oriented, says Sherry Hoskinson, managing director at the McGuire Center in the Eller College of Management. The McGuire program falls in the latter, she says. “We aren’t here to build rockets, but to teach rocket scientists.”

By having a good grounding in what it takes to be a successful business starter, graduates are then able to pursue their dreams. “When an idea they are passionate about comes along,” she says, “they don’t have to be a bystander.”

These days, says Hoskinson, many of the ideas that are developed in the program and then launched by graduates tend to be high-tech concepts.

But Reed’s idea for I Love Blue Sea, while not technology driven, still fits with the post-2000 culture and the ideals of that generation, she says, because of its focus on sustainability.

The idea for the seafood business came to Reed when he began attending the landlocked school in Tucson, Ariz., and was craving fresh seafood. But it wasn’t his first entrepreneurial project. If the original plan devised by Reed and his classmates had succeeded, he might still be involved in a waste-to-energy business. But the ability to license the intellectual property behind the concept fell through.

Reed, who graduated in 2007, says his and his classmates’ first ventures after graduation were with writing business plans for people who wanted to launch sustainable businesses. Remaining in the back of Reed’s mind was his idea about bringing fresh, sustainable seafood to the masses through an online business.

So he went back to school to visit with Hoskinson and Jim Jindrick, who had served as his mentor for his entrepreneurship program project. “I was out of school two years, but I met with Sherry and Jim and they talked me through the idea,” he says.

That was one of the lessons learned while going through the program, says Reed — to think the business idea through and get the plan on paper. Even after launching I Love Blue Sea and seeing it take off, Reed says he still talks with Jindrick regularly.

The McGuire Center’s elite program is limited to 100 students combined in the undergraduate, master’s and doctorate programs. Students work in teams of four, taking classes and also working with a mentor throughout the year. The textbook, says Hoskinson, is the venture they create, so the classroom work is focused on what would be common no matter what the business concept is. Students from the law school are also tied into the program, providing legal guidance for the start-ups.

Hoskinson adds that in its 30-year history, the program has produced 2,000 alumni, some who have created food or seafood-related businesses, such as a shrimp business and an online farmer’s market.

Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in Portland, Maine

October 2011 - SeaFood Business 

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