Students get hands-on experience working with small businesses | Classroom Spotlight

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Four women smile in front of a painting
Entrepreneurship practicum students, counterclockwise from left, Amaya Evans, Kyla Watson and Zaria Brown, worked with Mama Hawk Draws owner Erin Hawkins, second from left. Photo courtesy Erin Hawkins

Mercer University students worked with small business owners to solve real-world problems as part of an entrepreneurship class last semester.

Students in the practicum worked as consulting teams tackling topics such as rebranding, digital marketing, operations management, and market research and analysis, said Associate Professor of Management Dr. Marko Horn, who taught the class in the School of Business.

The practicum, which is only offered in the fall, allows students majoring or minoring in entrepreneurship to apply concepts they’ve learned in the classroom to a real-life setting. This kind of experience will pay off after graduation, Dr. Horn said.

“Experiential learning will help the students once they graduate to set themselves apart in the labor market,” he said. “There will be lots of students that come out of college with good GPAs, but they don’t have a whole lot of practical experience, and that is something that a future employer is really going to look for.”

At the beginning of the fall 2022 semester, small business owners visited the class to share what problem they wanted help with. Working in teams, students selected a business to work with, wrote a proposal, had the business sign off on it and then implemented their plans.

“I want to own a business, and I feel like all the things that I did are very important when thinking about starting a business,” said Joseph Felker, a senior double-majoring in marketing and management.

Felker worked with Macon-based Fall Line Brewing Co., which is owned by Mercer alumna Kaitlynn Kressin. His team was charged with analyzing Fall Line’s operations and costs and helping it find ways to keep customers there, such as offering appetizers that people can share.

The team went to 24 restaurants and microbreweries in Macon, noting menu items, prices, seating capacity and foot traffic, which was compiled into an industry analysis. The students also observed Fall Line’s own processes, reporting on how long each process took, the cost of raw materials, and how much it cost to make items on the restaurant’s menu, Felker said.

“I really liked the hands-on aspect, being able to do what I’ve learned for the last three years and apply it in an actual situation,” he said.

Kyla Watson, a junior majoring in entrepreneurship, worked with Macon graphic designer and artist Erin Hawkins on marketing her business, Mama Hawk Draws.

“We created a social media marketing campaign, we planned a few pop-up shops for her, and we also created a survey for her clients to fill out, so we could learn more about her target market,” Watson said.

She said she enjoyed the nontraditional class format that allowed her to apply knowledge learned in class. Her team wrote a case study on the work it did for Mama Hawk Draws and will present it at the Southeast Case Research Association (SECRA) conference in February.

“They brought a lot to the table,” Hawkins said about the students. “They had a lot of traditional marketing information, and because I didn’t major in marketing, they brought things to my attention that I wasn’t aware of.”

Hawkins shared the survey students created on the Mama Hawk Draws Instagram account, and she plans on using what she learned from it in her marketing efforts this year. The students also helped Hawkins rebrand 478 Creatives (formerly Creative Conversations), a collaborative group she co-founded.

“They helped us set up some new systems that will help legitimize our group if we want to take it to the next level of a nonprofit or LLC,” Hawkins said. “They also set up an Instagram profile and helped make email templates to make it easier for us to communicate with those in the group and potential people joining the group.”

Two young men wearing shirts that say Pritown Baby Entertainment stand in front of a red sports car.
Student Shawn Walker, right, worked on his own business, Pritown Baby Entertainment, for his entrepreneurship practicum. Photo courtesy Shawn Walker

The practicum allowed Shawn Walker, an entrepreneurship major, to work on his own business, Pritown Baby Entertainment. Walker graduated in December and is now pursuing a Master of Business Administration at Mercer.

He started Pritown Baby Entertainment in 2020 as a marketing and management label for artists. The class motivated him to take his business seriously and get things done, he said. This included registering as an LLC, running advertisements, performing at a live event, coming up with clothing ideas and working on TikTok content.

“We had to make a list of deliverables that we were going to do throughout the period of the class, and it helped me get a lot done,” Walker said.

 

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Jennifer Falk is the director of digital communications at Mercer University and editor-in-chief of The Den. She creates and supervises the development of written and multimedia content for primary University web pages and e-newsletters, including The Den and This Week @ Mercer. In addition, she collaborates with schools and offices to maintain web content and examines data and analytics to drive content creation decisions. She also serves as a member of the University's social media committee.