SARASOTA, Fla. (Oct. 18, 2016) USF Sarasota-Manatee business Prof. Jon Stuart is becoming known as much for his guests as for his lectures.
The entrepreneurship and small business management instructor has been inviting guest speakers from local companies since 2013 and says the experience aids students in ways that textbooks and traditional classroom lessons can’t help them.
“The first year was pretty informal,” he said. “I was testing the waters and it went pretty well. Ever since then it’s taken off.”
Embraced both by business and hospitality majors, Stuart’s once-a-year entrepreneurship course is known to fill up quickly. An engaging lecturer in his own right, Stuart says the guest events have become high points because they include CEOs giving first-hand accounts of their startup experiences, including any missteps.
The class is accompanied by a free exchange of questions and answers, but the focus rests on the sage advice from the lineup of local executives. About a dozen usually speak at the once- or twice-a-semester sessions. Some run small manufacturing companies, others, restaurant franchises and other retail businesses. Some delve into tech-based ventures. Stuart says he strives for a healthy cross-section of businesses.
“It is important that our students understand what it takes to manage and grow a business and having these representatives of our local business community share their experiences brings real life into the classroom,” Dr. Curran said. “Jon Stuart is being innovative in the approach he takes to delivering his course and engaging local entrepreneurs. Interestingly, the business leaders are just as excited to work with students and provide an opportunity that they wish was available when they were in school.”
A member of Manasota SCORE – a mentoring program for business owners and executives – Stuart says it’s critical for novice entrepreneurs to seek advice from veteran executives, and in the same way he’s hoping the guest speaker programs inspire his students – particularly entrepreneurial ones – to pursue mentoring relationships.
“There is nothing more important for someone starting out in business than to have a mentor they can go to, to discuss ideas,” he said.
After the executives relate their stories, the classes typically shift to a Q&A mode or divide into groups for more intensive discussions. Sometimes the CEOs pose questions of their own. The Sept. 27 session included speakers from the Gulf Coast CEO Forum and BIG: Bright Ideas on the Gulf Coast. On the minds of many was why some young people seem intent to leave Southwest Florida after graduating.
“It was the big topic,” said Stuart, who heard a variety of responses, from better wages and benefits to perceptions about more opportunity and wanting a lifestyle change. “The basic idea was to get the groups talking and break down the silos.”
Senior business management major Channing Kelly said the class inspires her. She’s still thinking about law school but wonders about running her own business.
“Maybe not now, but down the road,” she said.
“The way Prof. Stuart treats his class it’s a little bit different than other classes,” she added. “He opens up a whole new window. It’s nice to go to a college where you can break down into groups and talk to a CEO.”
Conrad Poston, a senior hospitality management student, already planned to launch a business with his brother when he signed up for Prof. Stuart’s class. He said the knowledge and inspiration gleaned from it will prove useful when they launch their venture, a coffee/beer/wine lounge.
“His class is about getting you to think differently and introduces you to a new paradigm or way of thinking,” Poston said. “It doesn’t feel like a lecture. It feels like a place where I can increase my entrepreneurial spirit.
“I liked the break-out sessions with the CEOs, having that chance to talk with them one on one,” he said. “I look at the business models that are successful here and thriving and I try to think of how I can apply that to what I’ll be doing.”
To learn more about USF Sarasota-Manatee’s College of Business, visit usfsm.edu/college-of-business/.