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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Students Launch Businesses for Credit, Charity

Students build brands from the ground up.

Deanna Narveson, Mankato Free Press, 12-9-2016

MANKATO — About 50 business students from Minnesota State University, Mankato wrapped up a semester of real-life experience, earned some credits and donated money to two local charities Wednesday.

The students were split into two groups and saddled with the task of starting a business from the ground up, resulting in a semester full of the trials entrepreneurs face and one product recall.

“It’s completely hands on. We basically got put into a room, and we had to put together an entire business plan and do a presentation to the bank,” said senior Keaton Collas.

The Integrated Business Experience course in the College of Business allows groups of students to get a loan from United Prairie Bank and launch a business.

During the semester they develop and market their product, manage the business and sell their products. At the end of the semester they are responsible for repaying the loan, with any profits donated to a charity of their choice.

One business, Midwest Made, sold T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs and solarpowered cellphone chargers with a Midwest Made logo. The other, Kato Supply Co., sold indestructible cups, shirts, flags and other items with a Kato logo.

Professors teaching in the IBE introduce various business basics in a specific sequence that maps to the startup process, exposing students to topics on an as-needed basis so that they are prepared for each stage of the startup experience.

Collas was CEO of Kato Supply Co. He said they wanted to create a brand that had local appeal. They crafted their colors and style with a bit of a ‘90s ‘‘retro’’ touch. Kato Supply Co. donated $2,126 in profits to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Kelly Barnard, a senior and CEO of Midwest Made, said the experience required them to make decisions as a team and taught him what it is like to be leading and creating instead of being a cog in a larger machine.

Midwest Made had to issue a recall for one of their products, the solarpowered phone chargers. Barnard said it was a good lesson in understanding the problems a business startup could face.

“We found that there were issues pretty early on in the process of selling them,” Barnard said. The team began hand testing each product and reached out to the manufacturer.

“We contacted every single purchaser because we had receipts and made sure we handled it in the way we should, rather than taking the money and walking away,” Barnard said.

Midwest Made donated $1,785 to the BackPack Food Program, which will feed six children for an entire school year, said Program Director Nicole Swanson.

The United Prairie Bank IBE was formed through a gift from the bank. The initial pilot program in spring 2012 included 16 students and increased to 51 students by this year. Since the start, students have donated more than $37,000 to local charities.

“I think they are able to take what they are learning in their core foundation business classes and apply it to real world learning as they run the business,” said Kathy Dale, assistant professor of management. “So it’s really giving them hands-on real world learning.”

United Prairie also provides professional mentorship to students, reviewing the students’ plans, critiquing product and service pitches and attending College of Business networking events.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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