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Towson Student Entrepreneurs Mind Their Own Business

Towson University has had a lot to celebrate during the past year: The university commemorated its 150th year and Stephens Hall, home to the College of Business and Economics (CBE), marked its centennial. And, in the fall of 2015, Stephens Hall celebrated the opening Café Enactus, its first student-run business.

Enactus (Entrepreneurial Action Us) is a CBE student organization dedicated to empowering progress in the local community through entrepreneurship. Our diverse membership, over 60 percent of whom are women, works on different project teams. While many Enactus projects involve working in the community, during the fall 2014 term our project team decided to focus on a campus issue.

TU business majors spend almost their entire academic careers in Stephens Hall, the university’s iconic structure. While rich with history and ample learning opportunities, it lacked one thing—

food. Because the closest dining option involved a three-minute walk and long lines, it was impossible to refuel between classes. Enactus members recognized a need and the opportunity to aid our fellow students while giving ourselves hands-on entrepreneurial experience. We decided to create a student-run café in Stephens Hall that would sell coffee, pastries, sandwiches and other snacks to CBE students, faculty and staff.

After conducting a needs assessment, we approached top TU administrators with the plan and convinced them that opening a student-run café would be beneficial. In addition to writing the business plan, we determined the café location (with the dean’s approval) and designed the interior, logo and brand. Working with TU’s executive chef, we also created a menu featuring local vendors. This innovative approach allows Enactus to have a say in how the business is run and provides a platform that enables us to connect with other students.

On August 31, Café Enactus opened for business. Students and faculty members were excited to explore the menu options, and they enjoyed the café’s convenience. As managers, we run all day-to-day operations, hire and staff the cafe, determine menu items and place orders, implement marketing strategies, forecast weekly sales and prepare weekly budgets.

What we learned in class prepared us to operate the café, but what we learned by operating a campus business will help us in every aspect of our lives. The experience honed our knowledge of and respect for teamwork and communication skills. Since we are all full-time students and part-time café managers, we rely on teamwork and good communication with all stakeholders to make the business successful. Managing the café can be stressful at times, but this experience has prepared the three of us for the post-graduation business world. Being an entrepreneur can be an uphill climb. We just made our first profit. Well, now we have some real-life experience, and we certainly know about uphill climbs: Every morning we push a cart filled with products up a steep hill to the café.

This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Path To Excellence: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Path to Excellence magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Path to Excellence.