Category: Student Spotlight

SBE Senior Opens Own Business

Scott Ramage has just a few months left until he graduates with a Bachelor of Science in Operations and Systems Management from the School of Business and Economics, but that didn’t stop him from celebrating the opening of his new business on February 5.  This unique venture is called 906 Vapor, and is an electronic cigarette lounge and vapor bar.

What is an electronic cigarette?  Often referred to as an e-cigarette, this personal vaporizer often looks much like an “old-fashioned” cigarette with an LED light on the end.  Using one of these satisfies nicotine cravings without most of the chemicals and carcinogens known to typical tobacco products.

Where did Scott find the inspiration to become an entrepreneur before even graduating?  He says that he owes some of his success to his dedicated personality, persistence, and of course, the classes he’s taken as part of his undergraduate career at Michigan Tech!  The idea for 906 Vapor originally began as a homework assignment for Scott’s Management of Technology and Innovation (MGT 4600) course.  His professor, Andre Laplume, encouraged him to keep thinking about ways to make the business into a reality.  Scott also drew inspiration from Michele Loughead’s business courses, as well as BUS 2300: Quantitative Problem Solving, taught by Roger Woods.

After graduation, Scott plans to continue his success with 906 Vapor while furthering his education.  Perhaps he may even be interested in pursuing his MBA through the School of Business and Economics!

For all of SBE’s young entrepreneurs, Scott offers some advice: “If you have an idea and you believe it will work, take the chance and give it all you have.  Even if you fail, keep trying.  The experience and knowledge gained can never be taken away from you.  It can only benefit you in your future endeavors.”

Do you have an idea for a new business venture?  Or have you recently started your own business?  Tell us all about it in the comments!

Winning Pitch Cleans up at Competition

Entrepreneurship Club hosts another successful Elevator Pitch Competition.

Today’s university students are reminded to be careful about what they put up on their Facebook or Twitter accounts. Sometimes they forget, and that’s a job for Clean It Up, the winning entry in the fifth annual Bob Mark Elevator Pitch Competition held Thursday night on the campus of Michigan Technological University.

The late business professor Bob Mark created the competition so students could polish their 90-second, new business pitches, emulating the length of an elevator ride.

The brainchild of accounting major Nikoli Wiens, assisted by chemical engineering major Zach Eckert, Clean It Up promises to clean up content and profiles on the Internet, even beyond the cleansing that Facebook and Twitter claim to do upon request.

“Companies will still dig deeper and get the info,” said Wiens. “We know it’s important to remove certain content, and we would do it cheaper than other services.” The team claimed there was more than $1 million in revenue possible with their $25 fee; such is the need for their service.

Their motto? “Don’t let one crazy weekend ruin your life forever.” They won $1,000 for their efforts.

Second place and $500 went to a device to which university students could also relate. FairShare promised a simple plug-in to calculate individual electric power usage, an important consideration for students sharing living spaces and expenses.

FairShare was created by an elevator-pitch veteran, Abhilash Kantamneni, who won last year’s competition with an Indian dating service.

“This can help college students save money,” Kantamneni said. “It would only cost $25, so most can afford it.” Kantamneni is a PhD student in computer science.

The bronze medal and Audience Favorite Award went to the ingenious Flashion, an app for your cellphone that can take a photo of a pair of shoes, for example, and instantly find their source, price, and more.

This mobile app would be free, according to creators Armando Flores, majoring in communication, culture, and media, and Allison Strome, a management major. They credited teammate and finance major Natalia Lebedeva for their inspiration, with whom they will share $250.

“She had the idea and we just built on it,” Flores said. “We might try to get funding on Kickstarter [the online funding site] to form an LLC.

Safety Straw targeted chemicals added surreptitiously to people’s drinks. Green Receipts sought to eliminate paper receipts at businesses. And more student-friendly businesses included Experience University, to help choose the right courses and teachers; and Food Now, to get groceries and fast food delivered to their rooms when they are in mid-cram for that final exam.

Michigan Tech entrepreneurs can also set their sights on the New Venture Competition, held at Central Michigan University in March and providing $65,000 in prize money.

Business Students Learning Lean Process Improvement

The School of Business and Economics will be adding a new Student Organization focusing on LEAN Process Improvement.


How can switching cheese pizza toppings contribute to a million dollars in savings for a campus dining service? At Michigan Technological University, the cheese swap was part of the university’s use of Lean principles, which were applied to all areas of food service operations. The university’s goal of implementing Lean was, and is, to sustainably reduce waste and improve the quality of products and services through a method of continuous improvement.

After discussions among senior leaders, including Ellen Horsch, vice president for administration, it was decided that dining services would be the ideal area in which to pilot Lean Practices. In 2008, Robert Hiltunen, director of auxiliary services, began working with his staff to begin the change management process. In just four years, moving forward little by little, the new process has saved approximately $1 million.

People as Part of Process

The core of Lean Practice involves engaging and empowering people, since many potential improvements are best identified by the staff who perform the related work (and the customers who receive the product or service). Key to the process, then, is building a culture of employees who are valued and encouraged to communicate their ideas.

For the dining service, Hiltunen invited employees to lead discussions, talk about current problems, and brainstorm ideas for improvement. Described by a Japanese word, meaning roughly “change for the better,” this is known as a “kaizen” event, during which employees begin breaking down tasks into small steps, each of which they consider in terms of its value. Those elements identified as non-
value added are slated for improvement or removal. The idea is to reduce and, if possible, eliminate waste. The group then began to craft possible solutions or countermeasures for doing so.

A Series of Small Improvements

The Lean team took one step at a time.

  • Start with standardization. A current-state evaluation showed that many recurring processes in the various dining services’ outlets were not standardized-resulting in inconsistent quality of products and services. Multiple kaizen events resulted in the creation of an online E-Cater reservation program as well as the use of standard recipes in each residence hall. Using visual controls, standardized recipes, and the same measuring equipment in residence halls has immensely improved the consistency and quality of products offered across campus.The E-Cater program benefits students and employees alike by simplifying the catering service reservation process, reducing the margin of error, and ultimately saving money.
  • Grill it just in time (JIT). Dining services staff observed and collected data on the way grilled menu items, particularly burgers and cheeseburgers, were produced. It turned out that cooks grilled daily a set quantity of burgers and cheeseburgers at one specified time, leading to sandwiches that diminished in quality and ultimately had to be discarded. Staff identified the JIT production method as a medium that could sustainably improve the quality and consistency of the end product, while minimizing waste.Staff collected dining hall traffic data, identifying the times of the day when a peak number of customers were using the dining halls—and consuming the largest volumes of burgers. Using this data, dining services created a new production environment where demand became defined by a “pull” from customers as opposed to the “push” of a set amount of food. Now, the cooks know when to have more burgers readily available and when to pause production. The change has resulted in guaranteed-fresh products at all times of the day and a dramatic reduction in preconsumer waste, leading to significant monetary savings.
  • Who moved the cheese?The team noted that while the number of pizzas prepared per week changed very little, the quantity of shredded cheese ordered for pizza production tended to fluctuate, despite the one-cup-per-pizza standard allotment. Obviously, this made it difficult to calculate the amount of cheese to order. Further evaluation discovered that employees preparing pizzas often added a discretionary amount of cheese to fill any “sauce gaps.”The kaizen team performed a series of rapid experiments, trying various combinations of shredded and sliced cheeses to prepare pizzas. The result: a new standard calling for seven pieces of sliced cheese. Through taste tests, student and employee customers agreed that this option was adequate for taste, quality, and coverage. It also led to a reduction in cheese used per pizza, predictability for the cheese order, and an annual cost savings of $17,000.
  • Tracking and reducing waste. In 2009, the university introduced LeanPath, a waste tracking system to electronically measure and track all preconsumer food waste, which comes from spoilage, overproduction, trim waste, and expired products. Previously, since waste 
was not measured, it was normal for an employee to dispose of full pans of food that had not been used.During a six-week trial period in the Douglass Houghton Hall kitchen, a staff team regularly analyzed results of the waste-tracking system and reviewed ways to reduce waste. At the trial period’s conclusion, preconsumer waste declined by 50 percent. In 2011, the LeanPath system debuted in the university kitchens campuswide. Using a two-pronged approach of reducing overproduction via the JIT method and safely repurposing (rather than disposing of) overproduced food items into other recipes, the dining service saved approximately $30,000 annually.

Overall Impact

None of these changes alone would have achieved big savings, but one little thing after another really added up. Since the adoption of Lean thinking in 2008, dining services has considerably reduced its cost of sales even as the number of meals served per year increases. From 2006 to 2008, the cost per meal jumped from $2.92 to $3.06, an upward trend that could be detrimental to revenues if not addressed. After Lean implementation in 2008, the cost per meal sold dropped to $2.52. In 2011-12, the cost per meal sold decreased even further—to $2.38.

Rather than using the saved dollars to benefit only a few, the university directed much of the money to its general fund used for financing instruction and general administration, directly benefiting students, faculty, and staff. Those employed by Michigan Tech have seen increased job security as a direct result. “Without Lean initiatives, especially in these tougher times, we would have had to eliminate positions in order to align resources,” says Horsch.

“Little improvements every day—that’s what Lean is all about,” says Hiltunen. “If dining services was able to achieve such success in the first four years of the journey, imagine what Michigan Technological University, as a unified whole, can do in the future.”

This article was submitted to Business Officer Magazine by Kaylee Betzinger, student process improvement coordinator, and Brittany Wood, market research analyst, auxiliary services operations, Michigan Technological University, Houghton.

DECA Chapter Has Banner Year

Haley Florinki smiles on with Dean Klippel and DECA Advisor Becky Lafrancois after her 1st place finish at Internationals.

Michigan Tech’s DECA Chapter attended the Wisconsin State Career Development Conference this year with all members traveling to Madison, Wisconsin to compete during the spring semester.  Members attending the event included: Brittany Barry, Angela Barr, Kaylee Betzinger, Haley Florinki, Frank Kampe, Gabe Kallungi, Sarah Ochs and Tom Simonsen.

Michigan Tech DECA students were very successful at the conference with all participating members taking home medals. Awards Received by each member are listed below:

  • Haley Florinki took home the gold in the Banking and Financial Services category. She received a plaque and three medals.
  • Sarah Ochs received the gold in a Business Research prepared event steaming from research conducted in her Marketing Research class with Dr. Jun Min. She received a plaque and three medals.
  • Tom Simonsen took an overall of second place receiving three medals in the category of Corporate Finance.
  • Brittany Barry received a medal in the Accounting Category with second place on her role play as well as placing in the top eight for her exam and being top eight overall. She took home three medals.
  • Frank Kampe participated in Restaurant and Food Management placing third place for his exam.
  • Angela Barr and Kaylee Betzinger worked as a team in their Business to Business event receiving a medal for being top eight in their event. Angela Barr also received a medal for being top eight in her exam for her category.
  • Gabe Kallungi participated in Restaurant and Food Service Management receiving three medals by placing third for his role play.

DECA Vice President Haley Florinki was the only Michigan Tech student to go on to the international conference.  She traveled to Anaheim, California where she also took first place in the National Management Institute category.  We are proud of DECA Chapter and look forward to their continued success and growth.

APMP Students Attend Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Event

Michael Morrison and Austin Kuttruff at the Century Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

Applied Portfolio Management Program members, Michael Morrison and Austin Kuttruff, gathered with thousands of stakeholders at the Century Center in Omaha, Nebraska over the weekend for the Annual Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Event. The crowd in attendance was seeking an intimate exposure to Warren Buffet who is widely considered the most successful investor in the 20th century.

Michael said that one of the biggest takeaways from listening to Buffett was “you have to love something to do well at it.” Being Finance majors, the two Michigan Tech School of Business and Economics students jumped at the opportunity to attend the shareholder event and learned about the passion that is required to be successful. The opportunity to meet Warren Buffett, his company, and its subsidiaries is highly coveted in the world of finance. Their itinerary included watching a movie about Buffett’s company, and the opportunity to ask him questions in an open forum.

Given the Warren Buffet is 82 years old, some shareholders had concerns about the future of Berkshire after he eventually steps away. However, Buffett addressed these concerns with confidence in his company and the people who work there, saying:

The priority is that all of us continue to zealously guard Berkshire’s reputation. We can’t be perfect but we can try to be. As I’ve said in these memos for more than 25 years: We can afford to lose money – even a lot of money. But we can’t afford to lose reputation – even a shred of reputation.

Buffet told an Omaha news crew that he’s not going anywhere anytime soon, but there is a solid plan for when he does eventually step down. The people who will continue his legacy know the steps they must take to continue to be successful.

Overall, the trip was a great learning experience for the two students which was financially supported by Joe Dancy and the LSGI Advisors Inc.