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MSU business college focuses on entrepreneurship, outreach

February 26, 2013

Mississippi State University College of Business Dean Sharon L. Oswald spoke to Starkville Rotary Club Monday about recent strides the college had made both on and off campus. (Photo by Zack Plair, SDN)

Business, or at least its study, is apparently booming at Mississippi State University.

MSU’s College of Business boasts about 2,700 students, its dean Sharon L. Oswald told Starkville Rotary Cub Monday at Starkville Country Club, and the college’s impact ranges from cranking out entrepreneurs that build their businesses in state to providing a strong outreach program that partners with company’s nationwide.

Oswald said the college had leaned heavily recently on promoting entrepreneurship, committing $60,000 in seed money this year for winners of the college’s entrepreneurship competition set for the first week in April.

“That’s really a hot area for us, and it’s an area I’m committed to working on,” she said. “(MSU) has so many energetic students who have excellent business ideas … We give them legal help, we give them accounting help, but we really need to give them more financial help.”

Many recent MSU graduates have already realized entrepreneurial success either on their own or through the business incubator program at the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park, with which the university partners. In fact, Outreach Director for the Division of Business Research Jeffrey Rupp said 19 members of MSU’s Entrepreneur Club had gone on to start their own businesses. Of that number, he said some were still undergraduates.

“Through entrepreneurship, rather than one student going and getting a job, you have a student starting a business and creating several jobs,” Rupp said. “We’re trying to emphasize that area. Right now, we own it compared to other universities in the state.”

Through its outreach program, the College of Business also focuses on its students investing in economic and community development outside the classroom. One program Rupp mentioned Monday was the master’s Capstone course, which required students to break into teams of three to four and partner with real-world business on projects ranging from strategic planning and marketing to product development.

“(Through that course), we supply pieces of the business puzzle that we are uniquely qualified to supply,” Rupp said.

Oswald, who joined the MSU administration two years ago, reported Monday on several other strides the College of Business had made in recent years, including its state-of-the-art strategic finance lab that simulates real-world investment trading.

“I call it the trading lab,” she said. “It teaches students how to actually do investment trading because it’s exactly what they’ll experience in the real world.”

Banking education has paid dividends for the college of late, as an MSU student has taken home the Swayze Award for outstanding students in banking each of the last five years.

Sometimes, Oswald noted the smallest things made the biggest difference. In the beginning of her tenure she said she noticed a number of students, some maybe due to financial restraints, who did not have the proper attire for attending job interviews. To alleviate that problem, the College of Business now offers its students a “Dress Your Best” closet that loans appropriate clothing for both men and women who need outfits for interviews. Oswald said the college purchased much of the clothing but also accepted gently worn donations.

Rotarian Carey Hardin, a member of the club’s program committee who introduced Rupp at Monday’s meeting, said he enjoyed getting a “much clearer picture” through the program of what the College of Business provided for both the university and Starkville.

“To learn about how they’re using the business incubator system to help students immediately be able to put legs on their ideas is absolutely outstanding,” said Hardin, also an engineer with Clearwater Consulting in Starkville. “I also enjoyed learning about the teams (of graduate students) who help businesses. I know they work with businesses all over, but access is so much easier for the Starkville area with those students.”

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