Building their network

University and high school students learn from the pros at Student Entrepreneurship Conference

Photo by Deb Gau Mallory Evans, a student in the Lyon and Murray County CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) program, makes a pitch for her own small business during an event at the second annual Student Entrepreneurship Conference at SMSU.

MARSHALL — The young people gathered at Southwest Minnesota State University on Friday morning were ready to network and to practice their elevator pitches.

To kick off the second annual Student Entrepreneurship Conference at SMSU, high school and university students took turns speaking about their own small businesses in the space of a minute or two. At first, it could be tough to get through the whole pitch in time, students said.

“It definitely goes by quick, way quicker than you think,” said SMSU student Hunter Smith.

Grace Haas, an online SMSU student from Dawson, said it was her first time being part of the conference.

“It’s kind of exciting,” she said of the pitch session. “I haven’t been to anything like this, and I haven’t done a lot of public speaking.”

The Student Entrepreneurship Conference brought together the SMSU Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) programs in southwest and west central Minnesota. SMSU students, and high school juniors and seniors from three different CEO programs took part in the conference.

Dr. George Taylor, director of the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at SMSU, was a chance for young people to learn from each other, and from the area business community. It was exciting to see the progress students were making Friday morning, he said.

“With each event, I can see the growth,” Taylor said.

Organizers said 77 students and about 30 area businesspeople participated in the conference.

In addition to networking and practicing public speaking, students also got a chance to talk with a panel of area businesspeople.

“The panel is very important, because it allows students to learn lessons from experienced entrepreneurs,” Taylor said.

He said it also helps build students’ belief in their own businesses, and makes connections between students and the business community.

In the first part of the conference Friday, students gave both one-minute pitches and longer pitches for their own business ideas, in five different rounds. Fellow students and a group of about 30 area businesspeople offered their feedback on each pitch.

“I think this is a very useful opportunity,” said Pipestone student Chloe Olivier.

Students’ businesses covered a wide range of industries and ideas, from sports team uniform sales to agriculture.

“I don’t think I’ve heard the same idea twice,” said Mallory Evans, a student with the Lyon and Murray County CEO program.

At one pitch session, SMSU student Sam Lund spoke about the SMSU Enactus organization’s project to collect food waste and turn it into compost. In another session, John Boerboom, a student in the Lyon and Murray County CEO program, said he was making a pitch to provide lamb to stores and restaurants.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said of the pitch sessions. “I’ve learned a lot, especially about marketing.”

Alexander Mazariegos, an SMSU student from Fulda, said the conference was a great chance for students to get exposure for themselves and their businesses, and to gain experience.

“It’s a great environment,” said Gavin Reisch, a Southwest Minnesota CEO student from Luverne. Reisch said he enjoyed getting to work with university students at the conference.

Students said they also enjoyed getting a chance to hear from area business leaders.

“It’s fun to be here, and meet up with all these different professionals,” Boerboom said.


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