A new program at Mitchell Technical College aims to remove the obstacles that prevent graduates of other programs from starting successful businesses.
“People who have an idea or a passion will now have a way to turn that into a thriving business,” according to Ryan VanZee, instructor for the Entrepreneurship program that will launch in Fall 2023.
The 12-course, 36-credit program is available to current degree-seeking students and those who have already earned their associate degrees at Mitchell Tech or elsewhere. In an effort to increase accessibility to the program, it is being offered in a twice-a-month format spread over nine months, with assignments to be completed between class meetings.
“We found that not everyone can give up a semester to pursue this education, (because many have already started their businesses or are working in industry), but about anybody can adjust their work schedule a couple of days a month,” VanZee said. “We wanted to make this path feasible to more people, so classes will be held two days a month, instead of the traditional daily format, so that students can work in the field in which they want to start a business, or they can work at growing their business while getting an education in entrepreneurship.”
The first 10 enrolled students will receive a scholarship from the Sabers Family Visionary Fund to cover 50 percent of the $8,000 tuition. Already, four of those scholarships have been claimed.
“The Sabers family believes in Mitchell and realizes that entrepreneurship is going to play a huge role in the growth of our community and the growth of individuals,” VanZee said, adding that the personal investment portion will provide an exponential return on investment.
Terry Sabers, who is a member of the Mitchell Technical College Foundation Board of Trustees and the South Dakota Board of Technical Education, was instrumental in the growth of Muth Electric and recognizes that the entrepreneurial spirit transcends those who want to start a new business.
“He believes that entrepreneurs are needed to grow existing companies,” VanZee explained, so the program is not limited to those ready to start their own ventures.
VanZee, who has provided entrepreneurial instruction to college and university students, as well as in public workshop settings, said that technical colleges provide a unique opportunity to put entrepreneurial skills to work in ways that serve the needs of South Dakota communities.
“We have highly skilled individuals who are coming out of our programs into communities that need these services, who just need to know how to start and maintain their small business,” he said. “All across South Dakota, we have a shortage of carpenters and electricians and welders, and in some communities there are no businesses where those individuals can go to work. Those professionals will come out of this program with the skills, knowledge and resources to not only get into business, but to keep it going once unknowns start to happen.”
Since joining MTC in 2021, VanZee has heard from several students who desired entrepreneurial training to supplement their ventures in high-demand trades. He has offered those students private instruction in his office when his breaks meshed with theirs and led community workshops, including Co.Starters Business Accelerator Program, that was the catalyst for 14 small businesses in the Mitchell area.
“We’ve got some students who took an entrepreneurship class as part of their business program and made over $4,000 working their business while they’re students,” he said. “Now, we can actually exactly talk about it in class, instead of just on the side,” he said.
VanZee said taking the courses with others of diverse interests provides a unique opportunity to stay focused on the art and science of starting a business, rather than getting bogged down in the day-to-day challenges of their specific trade, or in feeling as though they are in competition with others in the classes.
“Business is business is business,” he said. “If they only think about their business, they learn one business. If they sit with 10 other people, they learn 11 businesses – the principles of marketing, accounting, leadership are universal. One of the best ways to learn is by teaching others.”
VanZee said students in the program will learn just as much from their peers as they do from his instruction.
“By having a cohort, you’re explaining your business to everyone else, and they’re explaining their business to you,” he said. “All of us need a useful network that can help us grow. While you’re in class, you’ll immediately have a network with your peers” who won’t be fighting for the same jobs – nor even the same customers – after graduation.
In addition to teaching from a prescribed curriculum and providing students with his own business-building experience and testing ideas on one another, students will have the opportunity to learn from subject matter experts representing various services an entrepreneur may need as they venture down the path of self-employment.
“We will be bringing subject matter experts into the class—namely lawyers, accountants, insurance, and marketers – so you’ll have a personal relationship with experts in the field,” VanZee said.
Students also will be trained to leverage various modern tools that allow them to focus their energies primarily on performing their trade.
“They will be taught to use digital invoicing, and how to utilize social media, so that by the time they’re growing their business, they’ll also have a customer base,” VanZee said.
Clayton Deuter, vice president for enrollment services at Mitchell Tech, said the program provides a unique opportunity for students and graduates to put their skills to work in industry.
“You come a couple days a month, and the rest of the time you’re working it and living it and doing it,” he said, adding that the program is “great for progression planning. This is a great opportunity for ambitious individuals.”