Author: Lynn Makela

Michigan Tech MBA Students Cap Program with Trip to India’s Silicon Valley

MBA students Mike Vigrass and Holly Lehto at the pharmaceutical company Micro Labs Ltd. during their residency in Bangalore.

The nine students in Michigan Technological University’s MBA program returned from India with a new appreciation for how the rest of the world does business.

“We chose Bangalore because it’s the Silicon Valley of India,” said Jodie Filpus, who directs recruitment and admissions for the MBA program.

The online MBA program includes three residencies, during which the students leave their far-flung homes to meet in person with each other and their professors. Two residencies are held on the Michigan Tech campus. The third and final residency involves a week of international travel. “We do this so the students will be exposed to different cultures, as well as to introduce them to international businesses,” Filpus said.

It would be hard to imagine a city more different from Houghton than Bangalore. “It’s a very interesting place,” she said. “It’s beautiful in many respects, with its temples and palaces, and it’s so rich in history.” However, the population in the city of over 8 million has grown by over 65 percent in the last 10 years and its infrastructure hasn’t kept up, “so it gave me an appreciation for what we have here.”

Led by Assistant Professor Latha Poonamallee of the School of Business and Economics and accompanied by Filpus, the MBA students visited several different organizations, from a pharmaceutical manufacturer to a nonprofit that provides solar-energy-system financing for poor villages.

“It was my privilege to design and lead this international residency, which was a fitting culmination of a well-designed, innovative MBA program that put the School of Business and Economics on the map among top online MBA programs in the country,” Poonamallee said.

Visiting Bangalore: Mysore Palace During their trip to visit several Bangalore companies, MBA students also had a chance to tour the city. Pictured are Mike Vigrass and Holly Lehto at Mysore Palace.

During the spring semester, the students prepared for their trip by researching each of the companies and identifying a disruptive innovation to discuss with officials and offer potential solutions. Disruptive innovations are marketplace game-changers, such as iPods and cell phones, that upend earlier technologies.

Assistant Professor Andre Laplume taught them how. First they studied the companies’ products and strategies. “Then they proposed a new business for them to get into,” he said. “They described a new product, developed a rationale explaining why it should be adopted, and wrote an essay about it for their final exam.

“By the time they got to Bangalore and faced the company executives, they had something to bring to the table,” Laplume said. Not only was it a good opportunity to see how businesses function overseas, it also gave the students—most of them middle managers—a chance to display their skills before top-level executives.

Before traveling to Bangalore, student Holly Lehto had already put Tech’s MBA curriculum to good use. “Throughout the program I’ve been reaping the benefits,” she said. “A lot of concepts in the case studies are applicable to my day to day work.”

Her final exercise was to study the Bangalore-based market research firm Mu Sigma. “We talked about the possibility of going public, and we also discussed the possibility of capturing data from electrical transmission lines and selling it to clients,” said Lehto, a project manager for Allonhill, a Denver-based firm that provides due diligence and risk management services to the mortgage industry. “It was empowering to have the ear of these global executives, who were truly interested in hearing what we had to say.”

And there were revelations, said Mike Vigrass, manager of a natural gas compressor station with DT Energy-Michigan in Detroit. “I have traveled internationally, but not to India, and I was quite surprised at how much business was conducted in English,” he said. “At one of the site visits, we talked about the fact that India’s wages are going up, so that they are losing a competitive edge, and their answer was compelling. They said they think in English, which gives them an advantage over other emerging markets, where they have to translate the conversation.”

Another eye-opener was the visit with the nonprofit SELCO, which works to provide solar systems to the poor.  “I found that very interesting,” Vigrass said. “Among US corporations, it’s all about market share, getting bigger. For SELCO, it’s about meeting their customers’ expectations.”

Resource-stretched Bangalore has had trouble grappling with its own growth, he noted. “The population has exploded, and it’s hard for them to keep up their infrastructure.”

That culture shock did not take away from the trip, however. If anything, it made it even more worthwhile. “It was a very valuable experience, just to see how people in other parts of the world work and how they think,” Vigrass said.

Lehto agreed. “Both from a business and a cultural perspective, it was such an amazing trip,” she said.

Watch the Tech MBA Online India Residency in pictures

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8O4earGfxqM[/youtube]

Learn more about the Tech MBA Online.


Student Entrepreneur Seeks Endorsements

Jess Tompkins pitches her idea in the New Venture Competition, a joint business plan competition between Central Michigan and Michigan Technological University held in the spring of 2012.

Jessica Tompkins, a fifth-year student in business management, needs the help of the campus community.

Tompkins is competing for a $250,000 grant for her start-up company, Two Bows LLC, and has only three days to collect 250 votes to be considered for the award.

All you have to do to help is:

  • Go to Mission Small Business
  • Click “Log in and Support” and log in using Facebook.
  • Type “Two Bows” in the search and click “Vote.”

You can also watch this 45-second YouTube video to show you the above steps: How to Vote.

This community outreach is part of CHASE’s program, “Mission: Small Business.” It offers 12 grants in the amount of $250,000 to help small businesses grow. The deadline for weighing in is Saturday, June 30.

Tompkins founded Two Bows, which offers an apparel line with the outdoorsy woman in mind. “For far too long,” she says, “women have worn men’s hunting and fishing apparel because they had nothing else. Now they are able to ‘roll with the boys’ and not have to look like one.”

The endeavor has been fruitful; Two Bows recently received the Student Startup of the Year Award from the MTEC SmartZone.

Tompkins is developing a sewing company in the area, so that garments can be produced not only in America but in Michigan and help create jobs in the area.

Two Bows has raised a small amount of capital on crowdbackers.com and is near completion on a website through ZT Web Development.

Originally published in Tech Today.

More from Jess and Two Bows…

Michigan Tech Students Compete for $60,000

2011 Elevator Pitch Competition

New Entrepreneur Support Center Includes Space for Tech Students


Webcast: Key Components of a Successful Business

The Savvy Entrepreneur Series will host an interactive webcast on six key components of successful businesses offered by Entrepreneur Connect, in East Lansing, from 3:15 to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 12, in the conference room of the Advanced Technology Development Complex, 1402 E. Sharon Avenue.

There is no cost, and the public is welcome.

Mike Kotsis, a consultant/implementor with Entrepreneurial Operating System, which provides holistic models, tools and processes to achieve business success, will also share his experience at Optiant Supply Chain Solutions, a start-up software company; his corporate work at Dell Computer; and a small family business turnaround (Atlas Wholesale Food).

Participants will walk away focused, clear on priorities and issues, with a healthier leadership team and the tools to help them gain more traction.

The presentation, which includes a question-and-answer period, is hosted by the Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement, the School of Business and Economics and the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance.

For more information, contact Mike Morley at 487-3485 or at mcmorleyl@mtu.edu .


A Growing Concern

Amber Campbell sells hard-to-find flowers, herbs and vegetables.
Amber Campbell sells hard-to-find flowers, herbs and vegetables.

When daylight begins to last well into evening, and Houghton-Hancock area residents get in gardening mode, there’s not a lot of choice at the local discount stores: petunias, impatiens, marigolds, geraniums. Or geraniums, marigolds, impatiens and petunias.

But what if you want to grow campanula, with its delicate, bell-shaped lavendar blooms?  Or morning glories to attract butterflies?  Fennel and cilantro and sweet banana peppers to spice up your summer cooking?

When Amber Campbell, an MBA student at Michigan Technological University and avid gardener, thought about that, she saw a business opportunity. With the help of Michigan Tech’s Small Business and Technology Development Center and the Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation (MTEC) SmartZone’s Entrepreneur Support Center, she has turned she has turned a bright idea into a going, growing business: G&A Farmer’s Market and Garden Center on Sharon Avenue in Houghton.

She opened in May in a small plastic greenhouse filled with brilliantly colored bedding plants, feathery herbs and hardy vegetables. Later in the growing season, she plans to add a fruit and vegetable stand, selling fresh, local berries, tomatoes, peppers, green beans and Asian vegetables such as garlic chives and bok choy.

In China, where Campbell grew up, she and her family grew and ate their own fruits and vegetables. “I remember how fresh and good they were,” she says.  “I am bringing my own good memories to life here.”

Campbell, who is also an adjunct instructor at Michigan Tech and Finlandia University, started with little more than an idea. “I like fresh produce and healthy food,” she says. “And I have always liked growing things.”

When Jonathan Leinonen, a SmartZone executive who teaches entrepreneurship and business development at Michigan Tech’s School of Business and Economics, led a seminar about the SmartZone’s Entrepreneur Support Center, Campbell immediately sought his help. “I have an idea, but I don’t know how to start,” she told him.

Leinonen knew exactly how to start. “He put me in touch with a lawyer who helped me fill out forms,” she says. “Forms and more forms and then more forms.”

Once the attorney had helped Campbell establish the fledgling garden center as an LLC (limited liability corporation), the simplest form of incorporation, another Entrepreneur Support Center counselor entered the picture.  John Diebel, assistant director of technology commercialization for Michigan Tech’s Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement, counsels would-be entrepreneurs about intellectual property protection. Since Campbell’s business is not high-tech and does not involve patents or licenses, he helped her with market research.

“He helped me find out if there was a demand for more variety in plants and for fresher, natural, healthier produce,” Campbell says.  “And there is a great demand for more variety.”

Developing a workable business plan was another bump in the road. With counsel from Leinonen, Diebel and Jim Beauchamp from the SBTDC office in Escanaba, Campbell crafted a plan so promising that, at the urging of Travis Beaulieu—an undergraduate entrepreneur who won the 2011 Bob Mark Memorial Elevator Pitch Competition—she entered the statewide New Venture Competition. Jim Baker, director of Tech’s Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement; Paul Nelson, associate professor in the School of Business and Economics; Phil Musser, head of the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance, and Leinonen helped Campbell and her team partner, Jeffrey Squires—who just graduated in mechanical engineering—polish their plans. They made it to the second round of the competition, a partnership between Michigan Tech and Central Michigan University.

Campbell has a large garden at her home in Houghton. She also has a plot in the community garden on Pewabic Street. Still, she was surprised when she started to try to prepare her Garden Center property at 400 W. Sharon Avenue for planting. “Rocks!” she exclaims. “So many rocks, and so big.”

Campbell credits graduate students Fahimeh Baziari and Alex Wohlgemuth from Tech’s Peace Corps Master’s International Program with volunteering to help fence her site, and Tech master gardener Lynn Watson, who “gave me lots of useful advice on gardening.”

Still working on her MBA and teaching at two universities, Campbell quickly learned how demanding launching a new business can be.  “I am a little overwhelmed by the demands for time and efforts,” she says, “no matter how small or how well-prepared you are. Every day I start with a screaming in my heart—‘Help!’”

But Campbell is optimistic about her garden center’s future. “We offer greater variety, lower prices and better quality,” she says. “I believe that’s what people want.” She’s already thinking about the time when she can replace her flimsy greenhouse and roadside stand with a building where she can sell fresh, natural produce year round.

By Jennifer Donovan, originally posted in Michigan Tech News.


Gregory chooses Michigan Tech

Theresa Peterson/The Daily News Photo Kingsford’s Jeff Gregory will play basketball at Michigan Tech University.

KINGSFORD – Kingsford High School standout Jeff Gregory set a goal of playing college basketball.

That place will be Michigan Tech University in Houghton.

“Jeff told me that he really wanted to play ball somewhere,” Flivver coach Dan Olkkonen said. “He was not really recruited hard by any Division II schools, so I told him that he had to be able to sell himself to those programs.”

Gregory, a two-time Great Northern Conference Player of the Year, was able to work out for Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State coaches.

“Both coaches had very good things to say about him,” Olkkonen said. “Coach (Kevin) Luke was impressed with the way he handled himself, and he looks for Jeff to develop within a few years.”

Gregory will join the Huskies as a non-scholarship player.

“I told Jeff that if he is passionate about playing basketball, then he has to accept the position he is in and work on what the coaches feel he needs to do to be able to contribute in a few years,” Olkkonen said. “Coach Luke said he is a Tech-type-kid, and that is a big compliment coming from a coach as well respected as Kevin Luke.”

The 6-foot-1 point guard averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals this past season. The All-U.P. “Dream Team” pick helped the Flivvers to their first Great Northern Conference title since 1999.

“There’s a great tradition at Michigan Tech that I want to be a part of,” said Gregory, who will major in business finance.

Gregory was a three-year starter for the Flivvers.

“I am very proud of him and I wish him well at Tech,” Olkkonen said.

Michigan Tech, 16-12 in 2012, won the GLIAC North Division title for the first time since 2003.

This article was originally published on May 29, 2012 by the Iron Mountain Daily News.