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An Oklahoma university's entrepreneur programs prepares students for business

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The business world is often unkind. The Small Business Administration, a national government agency that provides support to entrepreneurs and small businesses, reports that only half of new businesses are still afloat after five years, and only one-third survive a decade.

So entrepreneurs survive the startup scene, Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University created an online Masters in Entrepreneurship program. The course of study was recently rated best in the nation by OnlineColleges.com.

“Rather than a general business degree, it’s much more specific about new businesses, startup businesses or growing a small business,” said Kyle Eastham, the program’s executive in residence.

What differentiates the online master’s course compared to others is the amount of resources devoted to it, Eastham said.

“It is a very complete program,” he said. “Where a lot of universities offer a few entrepreneurship classes under the management department, we have a whole separate school for the department of entrepreneurship.”

The course, comprised of classic business studies, also includes finance and management and provides coursework that encourages forward thinking and creativity. One such class is Imagination.

“One of the goals is for students to think more entrepreneurially. So being more creative, more innovative. ‘What if we tried this?’” Eastham said as he described Imagination.

The push for inventive thinking also earns praise from students.

“You would exercise your creative muscles by every day coming up with a new business idea and then researching and bringing the idea to life,” said Heather Parsons, a program graduate and owner of Cargo Room, a mobile women’s clothing and accessories boutique in Oklahoma City.

Parsons, who had a lifelong dream of owning a fashion business, found herself at an investment company, making little progress toward her goal.

“While I was there, I felt I was losing my creativity,” she said. “I was losing myself.”

She decided to learn more about the resources she needed to launch a business. She developed a plan and met with advisors. She said the result was shocking.

“But when I got all the finances on paper, it actually scared me half to death,” she said. “I realized what a big financial commitment and all the startup capital I would need in order to actually do this 850-square-foot retail business.”

She came across the OSU program while searching for education opportunities to enhance her chances of business success. Parsons said she was impressed by the array of classes and ability to learn from home.

“What drew me to the program was that it was pretty much taking the same courses as an MBA course would, but it has more of a focus on starting a business,” she said. “I went through that whole program while I was working at the investment company full-time.”

Movable roots

Parsons took advantage of the college’s Entrepreneurship and Empowerment in South Africa program. While living in Cape Town for six weeks, she studied how business models differ in different parts of the world.

“We were working with underprivileged business owners that didn’t have a lot of resources at their disposal,” Parsons said. “So they were taking these unconventional resources and turning them into businesses. That got me in a new mindset.”

The experience influenced Cargo Room. Many Cape Town businesses do not have the luxury of brick-and-mortar sites. Entrepreneurs make due with carts and other mobile means. Parsons took the idea to heart, and after graduation, she bought a 12-foot concession trailer and converted it into a boutique on wheels, complete with fitting room and heating and air conditioning.

Cargo Room visits festivals and outdoor events and it can be reserved for parties and get-togethers. She confers with hosts on their wants and needs and creates a custom inventory for them. Cargo Room carries a mix of national and local brands, and products cost less than $60.

Cargo Room’s success allowed her to open a showroom in Midtown. She credits the online entrepreneurship program for her prosperity.

“It gave me that confidence that I needed also because after doing my business plan and getting everything on paper, I was just so terrified,” Parsons said. “It gave me the tools that I needed.”

Visit go.okstate.edu for more information. The first deadline to enroll for the 2017 Spring semester is Nov. 1.

Print headline: Engaging entrepreneurship, An online course at OSU helps fledgling business owners make their dreams a reality.

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