August 30, 2014  

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Southern Miss Students Test Entrepreneurship Skills at Venture Fair

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Southern Miss students check out tye-dyed T-shirts being sold as part of the Venture Fair held Nov. 3 at Joseph Greene Hall. (University Communications photo by Van Arnold)

University of Southern Mississippi senior Tateka Whitfield began crafting homemade key chains for fun during her high school days in Crystal Springs, Miss.

Today Whitfield is trying to turn a profit with her multi-colored trinkets as part of a class project in Dr. SherRhonda Gibbs’ Introduction to Entrepreneurship course. On Thursday, Nov. 3, Whitfield’s team joined five other groups from Gibbs’ class to hawk their wares at Joseph Greene Hall during a Student Venture Fair.

“I have enjoyed the class very much. It has helped me understand the basics of starting a business and finding customers,” said Whitfield. “It has also worked like an icebreaker in helping me meet students on campus.”

Gibbs’ Venture Challenge project called for students to form “new business venture” teams of two-to-four members to market and develop a new product or service. Each team received a class loan of $10 to start the ventures. The project began on Sept. 15 and will run through Nov. 15.

“I designed the project to directly immerse students in the entrepreneurship process,” said Gibbs, assistant professor of Management at Southern Miss. “Students often express concerns about not having the practical experience to apply all the theories and concepts they learn in the classroom environment. The Venture Challenge project offers a crash-course in starting a business.”

Along the way students have learned some important lessons about beginning a business venture -- such as understanding that some products are seasonal in nature and that important legal issues (e.g. intellectual property) must be considered before starting and operating a business.

The Venture Fair found students selling handmade bracelets, watercolor prints of Southern Miss scenery; tie-dyed T-shirts; snow cones, popcorn and hot chocolate.

At the conclusion of the current semester, students will “elevator pitch” their new business venture to Gibbs and the class who will evaluate each project and determine which venture was the most successful.

“My goal is for students to understand the importance of finding a real market need or deficiency prior to starting a business and realizing that every good idea doesn’t necessarily equate to a great new venture,” said Gibbs.

For more information about the Venture Challenge project call Gibbs at 601.266.5344 or via e-mail at sherrhonda.gibbs@usm.edu