April Grover, a surfer who appeared on the MTV reality show "Surf Girls", is using the class to help launch a career as a surfing instructor.

The real world
of business

UH entrepreneurs are required
to make their venture profitable
by the end of the semester

University of Hawaii business major Yamato Milner had little doubt she'd be an entrepreneur one day. She just didn't think it would happen so soon. But with a few semesters left before graduation, she's already setting up a business that will market and sell the design creations of UH-Manoa fashion students.

She's on the fast track thanks to "Brick and Click Retail", a University of Hawaii class that features just one major assignment, but it's a doozy: establishing a business on the student's own money and bringing it to break-even before Christmas.

For Milner, there's no turning back now.

"This has been too much of a challenge to just give up on it. If it works, I'll keep it going even after the semester," she said.

With its short time frame, the class amounts to a crash course in what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and how to navigate the shoals of concept development, market analysis and finance that wreck most small enterprises before they get under way.

UH business major Yamato Milner holds up a flier in class for her fashion design business.

Instructor Marty Parisien, a business consultant who has started or bailed out a number of small businesses in his career -- from an L.A. window-washing business to the Honolulu Cookie Co. -- focuses on the small but very real details that might not appear in the textbooks.

"A lot of what business schools teach prepares you for middle management, but nobody teaches being an entrepreneur as a viable option. This is about teaching the soul of business," he said.

The class, offered under the university's Apparel Product Design and Merchandising program, has some ground rules. Each student must draw a $3.50 hourly salary from their company to discourage schlepping through the semester with a lemonade stand, and they must acquire all required licenses, business registrations, insurance, and the other legal and financial safeguards of a real business.

The rest is up to each student's entrepreneurial spirit.

"The realism of it is what makes it so worthwhile," said Jennie Lopez, a self-described "nontraditional aged" student who is building a business around glow-in-the-dark pillowcases designed by her daughter Vivian Lanaris.

"I've had classes where you make a business plan, but when it's real like this you really have to bring the whole thing to life."

One of Parisien's main lessons in the class, which meets each Tuesday night in a collegial brainstorming session, is exploding the myth that entrepreneurs are risk-takers.

To Parisien, they are "risk-mitigators", and he coaches students on an array of ways to preserve start-up cash, such as renting necessary equipment instead of buying it, farming out manufacturing operations rather than building one's own and, above all, knowing exactly who your market is and what they want.

University of Hawaii instructor Marty Parisien, left, leads the Apparel Product Design and Merchandising class on entrepreneurship in Moore Hall on campus.

"The first thing many people do is spend on a logo and business cards and then go sell the concept," Parisien said. "But I say sell the concept first because you'll probably have to change all that stuff once you learn what your market wants."

And with most small businesses doomed to failure, one has to learn how to handle that. Parisien admits he has plenty of wisdom to share on that score, including his failed attempt to turn around local signage company Signs Inc., in which he lost $250,000.

"You will fail," he tells the class. "But you will get right back up and try again."

Not so fast, though. The semester's not over yet, and the student's business plans range from solid to "so crazy they just might work." They include a plan to distribute North Shore-grown chili peppers and a consultancy that offers fashion advice to sartorially challenged men.

Several of the students see a life for their project after this semester, and are approaching the class as an opportunity to slap some training wheels on a business idea they'd been kicking around.

"A lot of what business schools teach prepares you for middle management, but nobody teaches being an entrepreneur as a viable option" --Marty Parisien, A business consultant teaching a UH class on entrepreneurship

April Grover, a surfer who appeared on the MTV reality show "Surf Girls", is using the class to help launch a career as a surfing instructor. Teaching about five times a week at upward of $125 for a private two-hour session, she said she's already broken even and has her sights on growing the business, possibly even to her home state of Florida.

"I think a lot of people want security in life, they don't want to take risks. But I've learned here that this can be done; it's not an impossible dream," she said.

One advantage of the class is being able to offer business ideas for dissection by fellow students each Tuesday and to learn from each other's missteps.

"Usually in business you learn from your own mistakes, but it's nice to be able to avoid them entirely," Lopez said.

Among the lessons she's learned is just how demanding a business is on time and money. A horticulture major, she's now resigned to the fact that growing interest in her pillowcase product means she'll be dealing not with growing plants, but with glowing pillowcases through this semester and beyond.

"It really sucks you in. Even when you don't feel like working on your business, you've got to get it done. It becomes like your own child. You can make it grow if you believe in it," she said.

If nothing else, the immense challenges of getting a business off the ground has helped to clarify for many students whether a business career is for them. A midsemester show of hands revealed that most, but certainly not all, still had the stomach for private enterprise.

"There are only two possible outcomes from this," Parisien said. "Either they say, 'Yes, I can do this,' or 'No, it's not for me.' But 'no' is OK, because at least it's based on experience, not fear of the unknown."

University of Hawaii


E-mail to Business Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com