Focus, Higher Education, and Small Business & Startups

Entrepreneurial students form strong bonds at Northwood

Cohort concept helps run the master’s program like a business.

February 7, 2014
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Students in Northwood University’s entrepreneurship administration program get to know each other quite well.

They have to, because the university takes a nontraditional approach to instruction by grouping 20-person cohorts that move together through the master’s degree program at DeVos Graduate School. The instructors change, but their classmates do not during the two-year program.

The program is designed to give students a feel for a “real world” business environment.

“Our students are more able to get into a small business and kind of run that business as if it is their own, because they have that spirit to be that business owner themselves,” said Laura White, graduate admissions adviser.

The focus on entrepreneurship at Northwood includes students passionate about starting their own business and those who hope to manage an existing family-owned company. The program teaches a specialized set of skills in creating, launching and managing a small business. Other components include mentorship, entrepreneurial roundtables and classes specifically designed to further students in managing their own small business.

White emphasized that entrepreneurship is about taking risks, which is incorporated into the MBA program in the cohort experience. She said the cohort model builds in “the risk-taking mindset” and is applied to case studies every week.

“You are able to test your thoughts and ideas and are less risk adverse,” said White. “And at the end of the program, you do a simulation, which is also a great opportunity to take a risk and test your ideas.”

White said the program “encourages free thinking” and “how it affects your business and other businesses.”

Classes in the entrepreneurship program cover such subjects as successful business models, entrepreneurial marketing, new venture finance, risk analysis and business model creation.

While the classes are important, the cohort model has additional benefits, said Heather Bauman, owner of Great Lakes Marketing of Michigan and a graduate of the DeVos School. She cited the “close-knit family atmosphere” and networking opportunities as equally important.

“Northwood students and alumni are almost on an equal playing field,” said Bauman. “The alumni want the students to succeed beyond what they ever did.”

The mentorship and camaraderie apparent in the networking opportunities carries throughout the entirety of the university. According to Bauman, Northwood takes a nontraditional approach even when hiring staff. She said her professors were people who came from the business community — from firms such as Michigan Sugar and Eli Lilly and Co. — who shared their experiences with students and gave them a hard look into the real world of business.

Nicole Keel, admissions representative at Northwood, said the interaction between instructors and classmates is beneficial in the learning process, since different backgrounds and skill sets are drawn from in discussing case studies.

In addition, the program has a capstone project, in which students test their entrepreneurial spirit while consulting with a small business.

The opportunity to take over the marketing company Bauman now owns is what drove her to DeVos Graduate School. Great Lakes Marketing of Michigan focuses on assisting nonprofits in raising funds and awareness.

“The teacher was more like a moderator,” Bauman said. “The teacher would push us in the right direction if we got off topic, but students are learning from each other and applying real life experiences.”

Not only does the experience take young professionals with varying experiences into a simulated business setting, but it also allows students to overcome obstacles that are prevalent in any business. Students learn to collaborate while managing different personality dynamics and to create rules in order to accomplish their degree. In addition, they determine the standards to which they will hold each other accountable.

The result, according to Bauman, is a type of camaraderie not seen in a traditional classroom setting. Despite completing her degree more than a year ago, the cohort she was a part of at Northwood still meets on occasion to gauge progress since graduation.

“Regular schools, you don’t build that camaraderie,” Bauman said. “We worry about each other.”

Tuition cost for undergraduates enrolled in 12 to 17 credits per semester is $10,500, excluding a student medical insurance and technology fee. The 24-month evening MBA program is offered at the university’s Grand Rapids location and costs $32,760 for the entirety of enrollment.

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