posted October 10, 2011

In Entrepreneurial Ideas, Liberal Arts Majors Win

A shoe company supporting fair trade farmers and an organization connecting artists were the winning ideas at the Hope Entrepreneurship Initiative's (HEI) Fall Semester Idea Pitch and Learn, held at Hope College on Tuesday, Oct. 4.

Gretchen Baldwin, who is a senior international studies major from Kalamazoo, and Amy Hattori, a junior psychology major from Los Angeles, Calif., each took home a $500 award. Each student is now eligible for the regional idea pitch competition to be held on Thursday, Nov. 3, at Davenport University in Grand Rapids. The event is open to the public.

Faculty member Dr. Steve VanderVeen, director of HEI, said that as noteworthy as the ideas and winners is the proportion of contestants who were liberal arts majors, including the winner. Of the 14 participants, 62 percent were not enrolled in the professional or pre-professional programs presumed to generate entrepreneurial students, such as engineering and management.

"A broad-based education prepares and encourages students to ask creative questions based on the synthesis of alternative perspectives and experiences," said VanderVeen, who is also a professor of management and director of the Center for Faithful Leadership at Hope. "We see the evidence in our idea pitch and learn competitions."

VanderVeen noted that a liberal arts education also helps students find their passion. Baldwin's idea is motivated by an interest in fair trade and social justice. Hattori discovered her idea because she loves art.

Other contestants included Kate Allen, a sophomore from Vienna, Va., majoring in Japanese and art, who, after attempting to plan a cross-county trip, seeks to consolidate schedules among modes of public transportation. Ross Heneveld, a senior engineering major from Grand Rapids, after visiting his brother at a university, wants to create a student-run on-campus food delivery service. Joseph Soderberg, a junior accounting major from Glen Ellyn, Ill., while testing the internship market, thought of the benefits of an electronic business card. Conor Hughes, a junior English major and skate-boarder from Plainfield, Ill., desires to create a youth development program for skaters and bikers. Melissa Gayles, a senior art major from Chicago, Ill., engaged to be married, sees the need for a unique on-line wedding boutique selling affordable clothes. Jacob Everly, a first-year student from Woodstock, Ill., trying out for the varsity basketball team, wants to create a work-out program for at-risk middle and high school students. Audrey Schultz, a senior art major from Grand Haven, after running out of needed supplies, has an idea for making such items more convenient. Connor Mulcahy, a sophomore geology and environmental science major from Cedarburg, Wis., learning about the needs of the hungry in U.S. cities, has an idea for a restaurant selling affordable and protein-rich food. Anais Felt, a first-year student from Montague with an interest in public relations and political science, dreams of a program that employs at-risk women. Travis Rooke of Alexandria, Ohio, and Drew Forsythe of Vicksburg, sophomore students majoring in communication and management respectively, seek to make coaching fantasy sports teams even more engaging. Matt Rutter, a senior management and philosophy major from Sylvania, Ohio, inspired by a semester in Philadelphia, Pa., is creating a corporate-sponsored mentoring program that teaches cultural intelligence skills to its employees.

"We hope these students return to our spring idea pitch and learn and business plan competitions," VanderVeen said. "And I hope I can recruit even more of these creative students."