Celebrating Small Businesses
COB Welcomes Linda McMahon, Highlights Work with Area Business
National Small Business Week (NSBW) was April 30-May 5. Linda McMahon, administrator for the United States Small Business Administration and East Carolina University alumna, wrapped up a multi-city bus tour that celebrated NSBW by serving as the keynote speaker for ECU’s Spring Commencement Ceremony.
McMahon’s tour is an annual event that celebrates small-business owners and their key support groups. It highlights American entrepreneurship with events such as community workshops, award ceremonies and a three-day virtual conference for small-business owners.
During her visit to ECU, she stopped by the College of Business and learned more about the Miller School of Entrepreneurship and its small business institute.
“We were honored to meet Ms. McMahon and to introduce her to some of our top students who represent the entrepreneurial spirit that’s here in eastern North Carolina,” said Dr. Mike Harris, director of the Miller School. “She shared her entrepreneurial experience with us, and we also had a chance to highlight the support ECU and the College has provided to area small businesses for more than 40 years.”
ECU impacting small businesses
Snow Hill’s Glean is a subsidiary of Ham’s Farms, a family-owned small business that focuses on sweet potatoes and other vegetables such as beets and pumpkins, and has used many of the resources available to small businesses through ECU.
Glean’s name is what it does. It gleans, or extracts, reserve products to produce sweet potato and pumpkin flours and powder from beets. Knowing it had university resources in its backyard, Glean reached out to ECU’s Department of Nutrition Science through the university’s I-Corps NSF grant to help develop recipes for products like protein bars and smoothies in which the flours can be used. The partnership between ECU and Glean provides students, who are taking food science and marketing courses, with real-time, real-world examples for economic development and interdisciplinary collaborative learning opportunities.
After assisting with product development, nutrition science faculty and students brought in the College of Business’ (COB) marketing department to look at how these new products can be marketed and to whom. In the fall of 2017, student teams presented ideas to Laura Hearn and Will Kornegay. Both are co-founders of Glean. Of these initial presentations, Hearn wrote in a follow-up email, “After talking with each class, we walked away incredibly blown away by the engagement and commitment by the students. Will and I both said we would love to be able to go back to school at ECU and learn under the professors we have met.”
After the initial presentations, Glean wanted to continue its relationship with COB, just like it continues to work with the Department of Nutrition Science. Kornegay said they developed a list of projects in which the company thought the COB could provide guidance. This list resulted in project opportunities in six Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management courses.
“We met with a team of professors, kind of a roundtable discussion, and put together a scope of work of things that we were looking for as a startup, a small company, a small business,” Kornegay said.
He added the company realized it wanted to provide projects for the students to work on and give them “real-industry experience. They’re helping us accomplish a lot of things we want to do right now that we (Glean) don’t have time to do.”
ECU senior Nicole Peters will graduate with a degree in business administration with a marketing concentration this spring. She participated in the fall 2017 projects, as well as this spring’s Glean project, which focused on research and branding. Her team looked at ways Glean could bring an unboxing experience to its product delivery process. She said she appreciated the opportunity of working directly with the client, and, like Kornegay, she sees the value of participating in this project with Glean.
“Since they are such a new company, you (the student) are learning the whole process with them, how to utilize what you’re learning in your classes,” Peters said.
Senior Garrett Hinton of Fayetteville also was part of a student team that worked with Glean this spring. His team focused on packaging analysis and wanted to know what the consumer response was to Glean’s current packaging. Their deliverable showed Glean the consumer would like to see the actual vegetable – sweet potato, beet and pumpkin – as opposed to clip art or no art on its packaging.
“This (experience) means something because I’m helping a client on top of receiving a grade,” Hinton said. “It was gratifying. Not many other students can say they’re pitching ideas to a company.”
Glean also has turned to the Small Business Institute, which is part of the College’s Miller School of Entrepreneurship. Miller School director Mike Harris said both COB and College of Engineering and Technology students spent 500 hours to deliver Glean strategic and implementation plans that included analysis, objectives and issues regarding retail and budgets.
Dr. Christine Kowalczyk, associate professor in COB’s Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management, highlighted the importance of this relationship for the college and students. “Our relationship with Glean is perfectly aligned with the mission of ECU. We offered unique hands-on learning projects that are preparing our students to become future business leaders. The project experience has resulted in job and internship opportunities with Glean. We look forward to continuing our support of Glean and innovating the learning opportunities for our students.”
Hearn and Kornegay said that Glean plans to continue its relationship with ECU and COB. They see ECU as an innovator that can help other small businesses in the area.
“The professors and academia stand out among the universities that we’ve become familiar with in North Carolina and it’s right in our backyard,” said Hearn. “Any small business who is able to lean on the professors and students will gain something valuable from it.”