Entrepreneurship program fosters growth in South Bend business community
Bella Laufenberg | Thursday, April 1, 2021
Currently a professor of the practice in the McKenna Center for Human Development and Global Business, Michael Morris spent his career helping entrepreneurs create businesses all over the country and the world. Now, Morris has come to the University of Notre Dame and begun a new program: the South Bend Entrepreneurship and Adversity Program.
Morris said he started work on creating the program right when he arrived at Notre Dame in Aug. 2019 and ran it for the first time in Feb. 2020.
“If [universities] want to do something new, they raise the money, and then they do something new — which means they don’t do new things until they raise the money,” Morris explained. “I just don’t believe in that.”
Morris said his quickness to start the program stemmed from his experience working with communities facing adversity. He said he knew he needed to show South Bend that he was going to follow through with his promises in order to build their confidence in him.
Beginning each year in Feb., Morris said his program trains 60 to 70 students and features a yearlong business training program that starts with a six-week intensive bootcamp to give incoming entrepreneurs all the skills they will need to be successful.
Morris said his students come into the program with many different levels of business experience, and the six-week intensive training program helps bring everyone to the same knowledge level.
“The training is to get them all on one page. It’s six Saturdays from 8:30 [a.m.] to 11. They’re introduced to tools and concepts and hands on approaches from 11 to 12,” Morris said. “Then we have 12 to 1 [when] we bring in subject matter experts.”
The subject matter experts, Morris said, are one way that he leverages Notre Dame’s position in the community to help these entrepreneurs facing adversity.
After the business bootcamp, the participants receive one-on-one mentoring with similar successful South Bend businesses and student consulting. They also have access to community connection events and microcredit institutions — little to no interest loans for launching their businesses.
Morris explained his program is based solely around outcomes and entrepreneurs making progress.
“If we do this program and people have an interesting experience or they learned some things or they find it intriguing, we failed. The only thing that matters is businesses get started and those businesses become sustainable,” he said. “Our goal is to get these businesses to sustainability, and so we track the [entrepreneur journey]. Our whole philosophy is if we can help you take 10 steps, you’ll take 15 steps on your own — that progress begets progress.”
A student’s point of view
One integral part of the program is student consultants. Rachel Gagnon, who is pursuing a master’s of global affairs in the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, was one of those students.
Gagnon said she originally took the class because she was excited about the new opportunities it would open for her.
“[The class] offered me an opportunity to work with students from all across the University, and then also with the professor from a different program from me,” Gagnon said. “I had not lived [in South Bend] before my master’s program, so I thought it was really a fun opportunity to get to know the surrounding area and to just give back to the community.”
During the program, Gagnon was paired with two businesses, Green Earth Bike Rental and a beauty company. Gagnon said she met with these businesses once a week with a partner and was able to create a personalized business plan and connection with the owners.
“It’s really flexible, what you do with the clients, which I think is really such a strength of the of the class is that it’s so customized to the client’s needs,” Gagnon said.
Gagnon said she feels really fortunate for the opportunity and all the skills she has gained from it.
“I felt really fortunate to be able to work one-on-one and go really in depth with the businesses,” Gagnon said. “Being curious and learning how to get skills at any given moment and being really adaptable — those are things that I think I’ll bring to my future work.”
A story of success
Entrepreneur Cory Pringle went through Morris’s program in its inaugural year. Pringle owns three video media companies, including Faith Hustle Media Group, a music video production company, and Down the Aisle Media, a wedding videography business.
Before entering the program, Pringle said he had already started his companies, but he didn’t know much about the business fundamentals he would need to create sustainable growth.
“My background was basically with doing music videos, and so I just really had this hunger to just want to know more about business,” he said.
Pringle said the most important things he took away from the intensive bootcamp were knowledge of business terminology and how to market and advertise his businesses.
“Prior to the going through the class, I had a false perception of what marketing [and] advertising was, and so by going through the course, I was able to obtain the right perspective in order how to pursue it,” Pringle explained.
Now, Pringle said the marketing skills that he learned has helped him “get leads” and “convert those over into sales.”
Pringle said another valuable product of the program was the mentorship and consulting, which taught him how to run his businesses.
“I kind of had a videographer’s mindset going through the course, and then getting connected with the mentor, I started to have a mindset more about video production and about business,” Pringle said. “[The consultants] had me thinking and put me in the right mindset on how I need to start to run things on the back end.”
Pringle said he is thankful for the program because it has given him the knowledge that he needed to take his businesses to the next level.
“I had the passion, I had the drive and tenacity, and so forth, but those sorts of things can only take you so far. At some point, you have to acquire more knowledge,” Pringle said. “By me having that information now, by going through the course, I can capitalize on that.”
After going through the program, Pringle said he is more motivated to succeed and make Morris and everyone involved in his journey proud.
“It’s been a handful of individuals who kind of played a part in who I am, and I can say that Professor Morris is definitely one of those individuals,” Pringle said. “I won’t let him down.”