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Tappan Patel, Michael Helmich, Jimmy Fan, Annette Covarrubias and Kevin Dowell became the first La Verne students to participate in an integrated business practicum.

Tappan Patel, Michael Helmich, Jimmy Fan, Annette Covarrubias and Kevin Dowell became the first La Verne students to participate in an integrated business practicum.

Getting Down To Business

Five University of La Verne business students put theory into practice and blaze a trail in real-world entrepreneurship for others to follow.

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  • February 6, 2012

Aristotle once said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” A group of University of La Verne business students put that thinking to the test last fall and were successful — fivefold.

Michael Helmich, Jimmy Fan, Annette Covarrubias, Kevin Dowell and Tappan Patel became the first La Verne students to participate in an integrated business practicum, an experiential learning component added to their business curriculum.

Professors of the College of Business & Public Management had a goal for their students: to take what they’ve learned about marketing, finance and management, and apply those skills to create a real business, from the ground up.

“Experiential learning, learning by doing, is a key strategic objective of the College of Business & Public Management,” said Abe Helou, Dean of the college.

This is the first project of its kind to become part of the business curriculum at the University.

The five students, all junior business majors at the time, were given one semester – approximately four months – to conceptualize a product, manufacture it and distribute it with the goal of achieving a profit by the end of the semester.

“That’s where we want to take this program,” said Rita Thakur, Associate Dean of the CBPM.

After extensive planning and research, which included contacting manufacturers in China and surveying people in the community to determine which products they were most likely to purchase, the students decided to launch a T-shirt company that would feature unique La Verne-spirited designs. They named it T-MAJiK, which represents the first letter in each of their names.

The team factored in time frame, consumer base and financial resources, and, after weighing their best options, pressed forward with their product decision.

Among their challenges as founders of a business was unfamiliarity with each other. Getting to know one another and allocating duties according to each other’s strengths was essential to the company’s success.

“We overcame our obstacles by working hard together,” Patel said. “It was a team effort.”

Covarrubias tackled sales. Fan managed finances. Dowell covered marketing. Patel took charge of operations, and Helmich served as president.

Utilizing social media, flyers and taking advantage of display booths at campus events proved to be successful for T-MAJiK. The shirt prices ranged from $14 to $16 each. Hoping to at least break even, it wasn’t long until they reached a profit margin and were able to repay the loan they acquired from California Bank and Trust.

In addition to working toward earning an ‘A’ on the project and turning a profit, the students had other motivation: to donate their profits to two local non-profit organizations. Donation of profits was a requirement of the course.

“In addition to learning how to make money, we want them to become responsible citizens by sharing their hard work with the less fortunate,” Helou said.

A total of $1,000 was split between the Leroy Haynes Center and David & Margaret’s Home, both non-profit organizations that provide special services to children with special needs or circumstances.

“I am so proud of these students, they brought our dream to reality,” Thakur said. “I can’t tell you what it means to me, personally.”

In addition to Helou and Thakur, professors Paul Abbondante, Sue Caple, Issam Ghazzawi and Gary Schantz played a key role in implementing the business practicum.

Experiential learning is a new center of focus for the business program at La Verne and with the success of T-MAJiK, business majors can expect to exit the program with tangible experience and a real-to-life business sense.

“Starting a company is not something that many undergrads can say they have done, so this experience is definitely a highlight on my resume,” said Covarrubias, who said she will pursue a career in marketing after graduation.

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