December 10, 2010
By rubbing elbows with entrepreneurs and working for a Chicago-based environmental consulting company, Knox College senior Jordan Ball has gained insight into what it takes to build a successful business.
Those opportunities came his way through Business, Entrepreneurship, & Society, a program operated by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. Students in the program live in Chicago while they develop independent study projects, acquire practical experience from internships, and interact with Chicago-based business innovators.
"Learning from all these different entrepreneurs has given me a can-do attitude," said Ball, an economics major from Cuba, Illinois (pictured above, fourth from right). "This whole program has given me a lot of real-world experience."
Another Knox college senior, Audrey Savage of Richmond, Virginia, completed the Business, Entrepreneurship, & Society program last year. "It's a really interesting and unique opportunity," said Savage, an economics major who has minors in business and management and environmental studies.
Participants learn about "smaller, but really interesting and innovative, business models," she said. "You get to meet the people who created these companies. So if you're interested in starting your own business or even just how a business works, it's a really great program to do because of the hands-on experience."
Ball agrees. He and his Chicago classmates have spent time with several business leaders, including Rob Solomon, president of Groupon, which Forbes Magazine recently described as "the fastest-growing company in Web history." Groupon works with businesses to offer discounts to online subscribers, who often pass along the deals to their friends through social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook. The students have spoken with several other entrepreneurs, including the founders of America's Dog, a hot dog business; Threadless, a T-shirt firm; and Shawnimals, a plush toy company.
"Chicago is an outstanding place to experience entrepreneurship and innovation in action, and this program offers students a valuable experiential opportunity to see how companies are built and compete," said Knox College Professor John Spittell, chair of the Business and Management program and Executive-in-Residence. He added that the Chicago program "encourages students to integrate what they learn through their ACM coursework, internships, and interactive experiences with their ongoing academic work at Knox. For any student contemplating entering business after graduating from Knox, I would highly recommend this program."
At Knox, students in business and management courses often analyze case studies, and they benefit from Spittell's in-depth knowledge of the business profession. "Prior to joining the Knox faculty, I was an executive in the business world for almost 30 years," he said. "In addition to the specific academic subject at hand on any given day, I also relate the material to specific real-world situations, and students appreciate the opportunity to connect their academic studies to real-life situations."
While the ACM Business, Entrepreneurship, & Society program focuses primarily on business and entrepreneurship, it also has enabled Ball and the other students to explore Chicago's history, culture, and politics.
They met Joseph Moore, a 1980 Knox College graduate who is an alderman on the Chicago City Council. After the group spoke with Moore, Ball arranged to talk with him one-on-one. "I've really been using the connections we make here to learn from people," he said. "I've been proactive in getting to know people."
As an intern for e-One, a consulting firm in Chicago that encourages sustainability in the business world, Ball has researched grants and worked on membership development. "We want small companies to get energy efficiency on their radar," he said.
When Savage went through the Business, Entrepreneurship, & Society program last year, she found an internship with I-GO Car Sharing, and that experience led to a summer job with the Chicago-based company. Most of her work involved analyzing data about customer usage of the cars.
"She did a great job. She was really enthusiastic and hard-working," said Sharon Feigon, chief executive officer of I-GO. "She just dove in." Savage helped to improve some of the company's operational procedures and "set up some new ways of doing things," she added.
Feigon offered this example: When an I-GO car driver runs through a red light in Chicago, the city tickets the company. I-GO then reviews its records to figure out which customer was responsible and to bill him or her for the fine. This was a time-consuming process for the company, Feigon said, until Savage collaborated with others to devise a speedier, largely automated system to accomplish the task.
Ball has blogged about his Chicago experience, and he is the subject of a brief profile on the ACM website. When he returns to campus, he plans to encourage other Knox students to participate in the program. "It's opened so many doors for me -- just being able to network with anybody and everybody," Ball said.
Ball, who will graduate from Knox with minors in business and management and environmental studies, hopes to pursue a career that blends these academic interests. The ACM program has given him some ideas about how to accomplish that, he said.
Business, Entrepreneurship, & Society is one of three ACM Chicago Programs for students. The others focus on arts and urban studies. ACM, a consortium consisting of Knox College and 13 other independent liberal arts colleges, also offers several international study programs.
Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 45 states and 48 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.