Bryan Christensen knows the perils of being an entrepreneur … perils such as having to live in a tent with neither electricity nor running water while a business is being built. That’s what his family did in 1990 when his step-father bought land and began what’s now a successful family business in the Wisconsin Dells.
With his early immersion in that business and several other family ventures, Christensen can walk the walk with aspiring entrepreneurs in the classes he teaches on the Detroit Lakes campus of Minnesota State Community and Technical College.
As an instructor in the Marketing program and director of M State’s Business & Entrepreneurial Services, Christensen brings management, marketing and computer networking degrees and an MBA into the classroom, along with his family business experience.
Beginning this fall, he’s also incorporating the online HP LIFE entrepreneur education training program into his courses. Christensen was one of six instructors nationwide who were chosen as “ambassadors” by Hewlett-Packard to integrate HP LIFE (which stands for Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs) into their community college curriculum.
Christensen applied to participate through the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship and has since traveled to several of the group’s national gatherings to share his experiences.
In essence, he said, HP is using him and his five fellow ambassadors to gauge the program’s effectiveness. In return, his students have access – at no charge – to a vast amount of materials and to online forums with HP LIFE’s 50,000-plus users.
Because the materials are online rather than in a textbook, they’re also current. For example, he said, the use of the online Survey Monkey is so new that it’s not likely to be found in a textbook, but it’s already a crucial marketing tool.
During fall semester, Christensen used HP LIFE in three classes: Introduction to Social Media, Principles of Marketing and Customer Service. One facet of the program involves vignettes on business and entrepreneurship topics such as finance, marketing, operations and communications. Students are required to make a series of strategic decisions and can advance to higher levels (yes, somewhat akin to a video game).
Christensen sees the value of this entrepreneurship education for any students interested in starting a business, not just students in business-related programs. Having the technical skills to provide a service – whether it be cosmetology, small engine repair or Web design – doesn’t guarantee business success.
“You might have a great idea, but if you can’t sell and you have terrible customer service, you’re done,” he said.
This story was featured in the 2012-2013 M State Annual Report produced by the college’s Communications and Marketing Department.