Exposure – 3/29/20 – TRANSCRIPT for MSU Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation

Connie Rahbany

Interview Transcript

Connie Rahbany: Hello and welcome back to Exposure. I’m your host, Connie Rahbany, and I’m happy to introduce the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Thank you for joining me.

Aaryn Richard: It’s our pleasure.

Thank you, Connie.

Connie Rahbany: So can I have you introduce yourselves and tell me a little bit about you?

Lori Fischer: I am Lori Fischer the assistant director of the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and I work primarily with the venture student teams. Uh, I manage the incubator startup space for our students called the hatch, and I’ve been doing that since 2012.

Aaryn Richard: And I am Aaryn Richard. I am the communications manager for the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and I handle the strategic storytelling around venture creation and academic pursuits of the entrepreneurial mindset.

Connie Rahbany: Perfect. So what is the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for anyone who might not know.


Lori Fischer: The Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation basically has a, kind of two different tracks. One is the academic side where we have a minor in entrepreneurship program, and then the nonacademic, uh, which we call our venture side. Um, and that’s where we have two different programs called discovery and launch. And just quickly, the discovery program is open to any currently enrolled MSU student, whether they’re undergrad or grad student enrolled in at least one class. They are welcome to apply to our program and go through a program at their own pace. So, the discovery program is an opportunity for students to learn about entrepreneurship and see if they really want to start a business and really test it out and we are there to support them every step of the away. When those students become a more advanced intuitive Vance level where they’re ready to get onto the market, then they have the opportunity to apply to a launch program. Our launch program is another milestone driven program where we have some certain requirements for them to achieve at their own pace, but we also give them more support and services such as intern help where we hire a team of interns that can help them with creating their branding, their logos, the website. If they have app ideas, we help them code their apps and design their apps and you know, photographer and videographers, legal interns, um, to help them out every step of the way. We also have funding opportunities. We have endowment grants for MSU that are specifically to reimburse these students for their startup expenses, such as their marketing expenses, business cards, promotional pieces, their domain names, anything that gets them started with, uh, with creating a business and building their business. And then also these funds help assist them with their travel expenses to things like competitions that they’re competing in different conferences, trade shows that are actually across the whole country. And then another aspect of the Burgess Institute is that we provide different opportunities and experiences for students such as different events like Startup Weekend we hold twice a year. The Burgess New Venture Challenge is a competition called specifically for our discovery and launch students annually, and we hold many other workshops and smaller social events and educational events as well, and we support some entrepreneurial organizations such as the Women in Entrepreneurship and the Entrepreneurship Association and the MBA Entrepreneurship Association as well and they do their own meetings. Uh, they bring in their own guest speakers and travel and those are the elements of what makes up the Burgess Institute.

Aaryn Richard: So I, I want to tag on to there. And, you know, one of the things that, um, it could be a misc perception is that, you know, this is not a capitalist ploy, so to speak. What we’re really focused on is ensuring that, uh, Michigan State University students are beginning to explore an entrepreneurial mindset that will serve them, whether they decide to create a venture, um, you know, we’ll happily encourage and support and put them through a process to help them launch a business for sure.  With a minor in entrepreneurship, you don’t have to start a venture. Um, but the entrepreneurial mindset to us is about, being able to approach problems from a, a point of view that empowers you to take risks, to fail mindfully and to, to then turn and look at problems in creative ways. The entrepreneurial mindset really does set students apart especially within established organizations. Uh, as intrepreneurs students with an entrepreneurial mindset can head into places like Google or Apple or Facebook, uh, just to name a few employers who have brought students from our program into their ranks, um, and really innovate from within organizations.

Connie Rahbany: So what is the Institute’s goal? Is it planting the seed for that entrepreneurial mindset, or is there more to it?

Aaryn Richard: I think that, um, it’s, it’s not only planting the seed of the entrepreneurial mindset, but also putting students in direct contact with  mentors who are entrepreneurs and business leaders, leaders within our communities, and to grow and network. Yes, it is what you know, and who, you know. And, and we want to be able to have our students embrace a wide base of leaders and leadership qualities. Uh, and to be able to be connected to mentors who can shape and change their mindset.

Lori Fischer: Yeah. As Aaron said, that one of our goals is not necessarily to concentrate only on startups or ventures. We want to make sure that people have the opportunity to test it out and try it out and if they fail, that’s great. You’re going to learn from your mistakes or learn from certain pivots, and we’re going to be right there to capture students and, and help them and guide them along every step of the way. So they will have that peace of mind that they have already built a team or consultants for them to take those chances and take risks. But also, you know, we know that the majority of our students probably will not continue to carry on their, their startup ventures or even create a startup or stay in a startup right away when they graduate. And so, we want to give them are the tools and the experiences and the connections so that if they do decide to do something later in life, they’ll know where to start and who to contact and how to reach out to people and things like that. Uh, we’ve have more and more companies inquiring about our students. They’re interested  in hiring our students because they have that entrepreneurial experience, the mindset, and their companies are looking for students who have a, a full understanding of what it takes to run a business. They really value those people as employees and are seeking people with entrepreneurial experience, even though they’re not, may not be running their own business someday.

Aaryn Richard: So I think one of the things that is valuable in that is that along the way students are understanding that looking at problems that we have, the big problems that we have. We clearly have not been facing some challenges in a way that rapidly innovates and rapidly, uh, de-risks ideas and the entrepreneurial mindset, as entrepreneurs, we know that if something doesn’t work, then you have to learn from that failure and move on to the next idea within a sequence and that right there, I think it shows a lot of value within the marketplace.

Connie Rahbany: I know that you’ve definitely touched on it through mentorships and other experiences, but I’m going to ask this question in case there’s anything you might want to add to it. So in what ways are you helping students develop skills in entrepreneurship?

Lori Fischer: Yeah. So, I guess I’ll talk about our discovery program, and that’s the first program for all students when they’re entering our startup programs and something that we’re requiring them to do in our discovery program are creating a business model canvas at their first step. And we have a workshop that we teach them how to do that and it really let’s them explore their ideas, see if their idea is even worth it on the market. Can they take it beyond ideation stage and research the market and see if it could be viable? Um, we asked them to do things like creating a marketing plan and strategies, financial plans and projections and creating an executive summary, uh, creating a PowerPoint pitch deck and all of those takes, um, quite a bit of research and they can take it as far as they want or they can just dabble in it or take it slow. Um, I’ve had some freshman come in and I don’t see them until they’re juniors again. I’d like to help them all throughout their college career. But it’s really up to them and they can take their time and take it as far as they want. And then we have our intern that helped them as well and we have what we call discovery interns and they’re mainly marketing majors who had been trained and they understand the markets and the databases and the methods of research and that kind of thing that can, um assist students as well. We call them milestones. A milestone driven program because there are things that we are asking the students to do that are pretty basic and really open their eyes to researching, realizing what’s out there looking at different possible competitors, doing customer discovery and validation and actually getting out and talking to people and it teaches them how to research these things, but also all the different variances that go into deciding if there’s an idea viable or not. Then it’s the same with our launch program. We have different milestones there where we require a full business plan. Did you ask them to connect with other mentors and alumni and have other people outside of just our MSU ecosystem critique and suggest and help guide down along the way as well.

Aaryn Richard:  I think Laurie just illustrated that this is probably one of the most hands on experiential learning opportunities on Michigan State University’s campus. The numbers show us that this is the fastest growing minor on campus. The latest numbers of folks who have declared the minor is well over 650 students. The minor was introduced in, uh, fall of 2016 and we’ve seen that minor explode and people being very interested in attaining the minor, declaring it. And the beautiful thing about it is that it’s open to anyone no matter what your college is, no matter what your major is, you can get a minor in entrepreneurship and watching students pair their advertising major with the entrepreneurship minor, uh, watching folks who are engineers, pairing it with the entrepreneurship minor and really getting some cross intersectionality going between disciplines.

Connie Rahbany: So for students that might be unsure or uninformed about all this, like you said any major can get in on this. What would you say to them?

Aaryn Richard: What’s keeping you?

Lori Fischer: We have different programs for every level of interest. So if they don’t want to take on the full minor academically, uh then we have our startup programs, which is the discovery program. If they’re not sure about doing a start up, then they can join a student org, women in entrepreneurship, and many, I would say half the members of those entrepreneurship associations are not actually either in the minor or in our startup programs and some of them are just there to learn a little bit more, make a few connections. And so those are some different options that someone could get involved without taking the full plunge. And then also, normally throughout the year, we have our innovate state speaker events and different activities that people can get involved in and that’s how they could experience some of our entrepreneurial activities as well.

Aaryn Richard: It’s okay to be curious. We invite every one to the table. Um, and we highly encourage, uh, whether you go to an event or you register for the Burgess Institute discovery or launch programs. You can find all of these materials at eship.msu.edu and we invite you to follow us on all our social channels, uh and to listen to our podcast, which is called hatch cast.

Connie Rahbany: You’re listening to WDBM East Lansing. I’m Connie Rahbany, your host of Exposure. If you’re just tuning in, we’re talking to the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. So you spoke on work life a lot. Can you speak on this benefiting personal lives at all?

Aaryn Richard:  Yeah, benefiting personal lives, so, um, what is life if it isn’t about the connections we make with other amazing human beings and the relationships we build that, that take us to our next opportunities, uh, and our next challenges? I think our students they find themselves going to cities like New York and Chicago, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas and personally, I think it’s just edifying to be able to travel and hear experiences from people who are working within their field. Um, it’s just so edifying.

Lori Fischer:  Yeah. It’s taking some people out of their comfort zone. They maybe never had the chance to actually professionally network or network in a way where it’s really meaningful for them. I’ve had some students, because we do have many of these events and social events for people, students maybe meeting people in the community. And um, I’ve had some students tell me they’ve never done that before and they were afraid of, they were, they were happy that we were there supporting them and standing there by their side because it made them feel so much comfortable knowing that we were there and knowing that ecosystem, the entrepreneurial ecosystem already at MSU. So it comforted them knowing that and gave them maybe some opportunities that they never would have had in their regular major. Um, where this is where we’re providing connections and whether they use these connections now or maybe later in life, you never know, but it’s, it’s an opportunity for them and that’s how they’re making it, most of them are.

Aaryn Richard: I think also, um, Laurie, you just touched on this, that, the building of the connections with the East Lansing and greater Lansing area community too, I think a lot of students, they come to Michigan State University and their campus, their lives are very much centralized on MSU’s campus and when you connect with the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, when you connect with us and our team, we also connect you directly with our greater Lansing community and you get to step out of the comfort zone of campus and discover that you are actually living in a, in a pretty darn cool setting.

Connie Rahbany: So making all of those connections and all of these experiences, is that what makes the Institute different?

Lori Fischer:  Yeah, I think so. I think being open to any major, we’re not tied, but I mean, we have our connections with the about college, but we’re not tied to one college and we’re open to anyone across campus. I think that’s what makes us unique. I think our funding opportunities where we can use our endowment grants and give students actual cash to start building their businesses. Um, something that is unique about us as well.

Aaryn Richard:  And the way that our ecosystem works together. I mean, we are, we have a very close relationship with, um, with the Michigan State University Foundation and, and their ecosystem, including the University Corporate Research Park, Red Cedar ventures, Spartan Innovations. There are a plethora of opportunities for folks who plug into our ecosystem to find coworking spaces. Um, they have access to venture capital and that’s a huge, huge thing for emerging startups is to explore and be able to meet folks who are within the venture capital space.

Connie Rahbany: So being able to meet all of these people and have these experiences, I’m going to go ahead and move forward and say, is there anything your Institute and entrepreneurs have to look forward to at this time?

Aaryn Richard: Lori take it away.

Lori Fischer: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Our Burgess New Venture Challenge typically takes place every spring. It’s our largest  competition event and it’s generally at held at the Wharton Center. Um, and we choose 15 finalists to pitch to a panel of judges. So this year the event would have taken place on March 24th, uh, in the lieu of the things going on in the world right now, we quickly changed that event to virtual, um, instead of canceling the event, one to give our students that opportunity to still continue to meet with their mentors virtually and to pitch to a panel of judges virtually. And, uh, we will on March 24th, decide on the, the top five winners out of our 15 finalists.

Aaryn Richard:  I think especially right now, given what is happening within the health crisis, what’s happening in our world, I think that we’re all sort of reeling a little bit about how we formed community. I think that, I mean, what was really disappointing is that we also run Innovative State, which is a, it’s another flagship program where we invite very successful alumns to come and share their journeys with our students. Students can ask questions, um, and those are vibrant, vibrant of around a hundred and 120 students attend every single one of these speaking events. Those are still happening though, not in person. Uh, we, we were able to organize and be able to offer our students an experience where they can still hear content from our successful alumns. For students who are hungry and still want the hunger for information and still want to connect with the alumns we were bringing in for our speaker series, Please connect with us on social media. Send the questions that you want to hear. Uh, the, the alumns talk about. And we will get responses to you. We’re going to be rolling out video content and they can always, uh, catch our guests on our podcast.

Connie Rahbany: So you said you’re in the middle of a virtual competition. Has this ever been done before virtually?

Aaryn Richard: No. This is the first.

Lori Fischer: This is our first. Yes.

Connie Rahbany: So how has it been going so far?

Lori Fischer:  It’s been interesting. Um. While making a quick decision. Aaryn, when did you make that decision? Last Thursday was it?

Aaryn Richard: Yeah, it was a, Oh my gosh, I’ve lost track of days. So I think the, uh, the 11th is when we reconsidered what were the implications and of course, the health of our community is paramount, right? So, uh, the smartest decision was to pivot and to make this a virtual experience. And, um. I can tell you that I’m just so touched by the Spartan community. Uh, the alum mentors have really stepped up. They’ve continued to provide incredible feedback. Um, our judges are still, um, they’re grayed out, reviewing pitch decks and, uh, making a decision. So, to answer the question, yes, it is a first time for us. Um. Yes, Laurie, it has been interesting.

Lori Fischer: Yes. It has been.

Aaryn Richard:  But I don’t know if we’re unique in that, uh, in, in that pivot. So, but we’re just really excited that we can still offer it and really compelled by the excitement from our community to ask us to continue to honor the hard work of our students.

Connie Rahbany: And you said the results for that come out on the 24th?

Aaryn Richard:  Absolutely.

Lori Fischer: Yes.

Connie Rahbany:  So thinking back on the experiences the Burgess Institute provides, if you could describe it all in one word, what word would you use and why?

Aaryn Richard: Empowered

Connie Rahbany:  and why do you say empowered?

Aaryn Richard:  Well, so let’s make it, uh, uh, empowering. Empowering because I think, from building relationships, to enriching ourselves with experiential learning opportunities and, um, really the students who come in and embrace it wholly and fully. It is life changing and it has brought a lot of folks out of their shells.

Lori Fischer:  I like that because we, we manage, Aaryn and I manage something like 17 interns and really our interns are instrumental in what we do. Where they’re often the face of entrepreneurship because they’re working our info tables, they’re evangelizing for us. They’re meeting students directly with our, you know, whether they’re interns or members who want to go out and just talk about us because they really value our program and we could not do what we do without our students.

Connie Rahbany: And how can someone who’s interested get involved?

Lori Fischer: They would go to eship.msu.edu and there’s a contact page there, but if they wanted to sign up for the entrepreneurship minor, they can declare it right there and they can also sign up for our discovery program through an application at eship.msu.edu.

Aaryn Richard:  That would be the easiest route.

Connie Rahbany: All right, and is there anything else that you would like to add?

Aaryn Richard: Go green!

Connie Rahbany: Go white!

Well, if that’s it, I want to thank you for interviewing with me. This has been WDBM East Lansing Exposure. I’m Connie Rahbany and thanks for making the time to interview with me.

Aaryn Richard: Thank you.

Thank you so much.