Marriott Alumni Magazine

Fall 2013

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Inside the Classroom Seeking Investors on Main Street Following the crowd isn’t usually a good idea, but entrepreneurs can generate serious capital by jumping on the crowdfunding bandwagon. That’s the premise of an innovative new course at the Marriott School. “This class is one of the first of its kind, and it gives our students a real advantage,” says Daniel Falabella, entrepreneur and course co-creator. The class takes students through the business launching process, starting with idea generation and validation all the way through product development, sales, customer management, production, and delivery. Special emphasis is put on proven crowdfunding methods. To create a realistic business environment, students form collaborative groups with a corporate hierarchy. Each team designs a product with a specific consumer in mind. Students don’t need an overly technical background; instead they can focus on physical products that allow them to play to their strengths. The first semester’s class, comprised of nine students, created three group projects: LYKE, a line of customizable watches; Kubb, a handcrafted Viking party game; and Buntastic Band, a bracelet that doubles as a hair tie. Once they developed an idea, the teams logged on to Kickstarter.com. Crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter, connect people with good ideas to a pool of willing investors—regular Joes who like the product. Each pledge level comes with a payoff ranging from a personalized thank-you note to discounts on the product. Falabella teaches students to see any donations as presales, allowing students to go through the business process without capital constraints. “Many entrepreneurship courses emphasize bootstrapping,” the adjunct professor observes. “Crowdfunding is a way to reach out to customers before you launch to acquire funding. It’s a great medium for getting an idea off the ground.” To begin the Kickstarter campaigns, each group posted a video explaining its product. Then they waited eagerly to see how the World Wide Web would respond. “I’ve never felt that kind of adrenaline before,” says class CEO AJ Christensen, an economics senior from Draper, Utah. “Every time we got a donation my phone would buzz with a notification.” At the end of the month-long campaign the student groups raised more than $40,000 from 843 backers. Students used the money to fill the orders. “I took the class because I wanted to have an entrepreneurial experience,” Christensen says. “The class definitely delivered.” From an academic standpoint, the crowdfunding course is breaking new ground by building on the solid foundation already provided by the Marriott School’s entrepreneurship program. “Students who attend this class become crowdfunding experts,” Falabella says. “They’ve gone through the process from start to finish and know how to replicate it. The skill is easily transferable, regardless of where you are going.” —Meredith Francom

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