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Pepperdine's entrepreneur program will focus on creativity

SMALL BUSINESS

The revamped graduate program, rolling out in the fall, will aim to teach students how to come up with bankable ideas before they learn how to set up, finance and market new ventures.

May 19, 2009|Cyndia Zwahlen

While earning her business degree at Pepperdine University, Sara Dakarmen used her new know-how to persuade her husband, Todd, to turn his hobby selling salvaged Porsche parts into a full-time business.

Seven years later, Los Angeles Dismantler Inc. of Sun Valley employs 17 workers and generates annual sales of $5 million to $10 million. Dakarmen has always wanted to earn an MBA to better equip her to guide the tidy salvage yard and warehouse, which supplies customers around the world.

"I have so many ideas of which way to go, but targeting which direction to put your energy is hard," said the Encino resident, who earned her undergraduate degree in a part-time program at the Malibu school's Encino campus. "And if you don't manage it well, you'll shoot yourself in the foot."

She's the type of student Pepperdine is targeting with its revamped entrepreneurship program, which will roll out this fall.

The new lineup will teach students how to come up with bankable ideas before they are taught how to set up, finance and market new ventures. It won't be available at the Encino campus until next summer, but Dakarmen is already dusting off her GMAT study guide.

"Sign me up," she said.

The linchpin of the program will be a series of seminars that the students will take at least one of before they begin the program's six courses. The 90-minute seminars will explore cutting-edge fields, including clean technology, life sciences, entertainment and e-commerce.

Then the students will take the first course, which will teach them how to generate ideas that are personally compelling.

"We think there is a gap, particularly on the front-end process, the idea-generation phase" of entrepreneurship education, said Linda Livingstone, dean of the university's Graziadio School of Business and Management and a management professor. The first course will use the Simplex system, an applied creativity process designed by corporate consultant Min Basadur, who is also a management professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

The rest of the courses, ending with new-venture creation, are expected to be taken in sequence by second-year MBA students, attending full time or part time. The final class will include a formal business plan presentation to a group of venture capitalists and angel investors.

Previously Pepperdine's entrepreneurship concentration for its part-time MBA students was made up of two classes: entrepreneurship and business plans. Full-time students covered the same topics in four shorter classes.

The program change reflects the focus most of the major entrepreneurship programs are taking, said Michael Morris, president of the United States Assn. for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, a network of educators and researchers.

"When you ask what does a student need to be competitive, to be able to cope in the contemporary world, then the competencies we associate with an entrepreneurial mind-set become critical, " said Morris, who is also a professor at Oklahoma State University.

"It's getting young people to be better at opportunity recognition and to be better at problem solving, to think and act like guerrillas, to be better at risk management and risk mitigation and to be better at leveraging resources and leveraging other people's resources."

The school will have some competition for potential MBA students interested in entrepreneurship. Southern California is packed with business schools that want to cater to the demand for more entrepreneurship education, including USC's long top-ranked program and UCLA's wealth of offerings with real-world opportunities to apply classroom training.

Graziadio, which completed a strategic plan last year, is also in the early stages of setting up an entrepreneurship center at the school. The moves are part of the school's desire to shift its emphasis from serving medium-size and big businesses as larger companies disappear from the region or reduce their tuition reimbursement for employees.

"We've been reflecting on the fundamental changes in the L.A. economy over the last couple decades and the clear shift to small business," said John Mooney, associate dean for the part-time MBA program and an associate professor of information systems. "The whole area of entrepreneurship is really flourishing in the greater Los Angeles area."

Mooney was part of the task force that designed the new curriculum. Also on the task force was the former head of the entrepreneurship program, Chuck Morrissey, who will retire from the school at the end of the year. Taking over will be Larry Cox, an associate entrepreneurship professor recruited by the school last fall to help overhaul its program.

"What really differentiates us from other entrepreneur programs is our focus on the creativity part," said Cox, who was also a task force member. "Almost everybody talks about creativity, but we spend time training our students in tools to help them with their creativity because if we can get better ideas, we get better business plans and better businesses."

The new classes will begin on the school's main Malibu campus and the West Los Angeles campus in the fall. Starting with the spring term, the classes will be taught at the school's campus in Irvine. Plans then call for it to be launched on the Encino campus in the summer of 2010.

Dakarmen will be waiting.

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smallbiz@latimes.com

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