Dr. Rich Gentry, School of Business, University of Mississippi

This year, I will be asked to develop and teach a course in small business management to follow-up my new prep in venture finance.  One of the major problems in teaching students these courses is the ruts that students often find themselves in as regards to legitimately new ideas.  There are only so many bar concepts that will work.  

In both of these courses, I will be asking students to generate business ideas.  For the venture finance course, I will be asking them to create financial statements for a new business.  For the small business course, I will want more complete plan for launching a new business.  Both of these capstone assignments depend on the ability for students to think creatively.  I will be using the "Etc." section in Bloomberg Businessweek to support two brainstorming assignments in order to encourage students to really push themselves.  

The first exercise is called "Assumptions" and relies on students bending the assumptions of traditional businesses to think of new ones.  The classic example of this game involves restaurants.  Students are asked to put down everything about a restaurant that that they assume is normally true.  The standard answers are things like "plates, menus, lights".  The more mundane the better because I can show them a BBW article about a restaurant that does not have menus and prices - it is an upscale set menu who makes money off scale 1.  The first exercise will be for the students to find an article about an unusual and strange business from BBW, list is assumptions and then create a concept by twisting one of those assumptions.

The second exercise is "Blue-Sky" thinking.  This one starts with a need and goes to the most extreme before coming back to an idea.  For example, casual Friday for many work environments is mundane and has acquired a uniform all its own - polos and jeans.  Wouldn't it be great if people could wear whatever they wanted to those days?  The blue idea would be to create an environment here employees where whatever they want (Padagonia).  Coming back to earth slightly is to acknowledge that people have constraints on looking too sloppy - Maybe we could make clothes that are not sloppy but not something your dad wears on the gold course 2.   For this assignment, students will a unique product idea and take its use to the most illogical extreme.  

1 "Next Up in Fine Dining:Pay in Advance"  Bloomberg Businessweek March 31, 2011
2 "Office Hoodie"  Bloomberg Businessweek September 12, 2011