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"All you have to do here is ask"

International Business Day, an event sponsored by the College of Business and Economics, is one of many opportunities Katie Kiewel ’15 has taken advantage of at Lehigh.

People who start businesses, not surprisingly, tend to be self-confident and adventurous, to be risk-takers, and to see themselves as leaders rather than followers.

They also face daunting odds. Fifty to 70 percent of small businesses fail in their first 18 months. The success rate for new products, by most estimates, is less than 50 percent. And three out of four venture capital-backed startups, according to the Harvard Business School, fail to achieve a return on investment.

Katie Kiewel ‘15 has already acquired the insight and experience that many of these entrepreneurs might wish they had had before trying their hand at business.

Kiewel, a finance and marketing double major, minors in business information systems and also in entrepreneurship, a relatively new program that is open to all Lehigh undergraduates. She has traveled to Boston and Shanghai to meet venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, and she will visit Kenya next week.

“Entrepreneurship is a discipline and a way of thinking,” says Kiewel. “In our classes, we do case studies of successful companies and failures as well. We learn to solve problems creatively. It’s a whole new perspective.”

A carefully conceived cupcake launch

In Entrepreneurship 101, Pat J. Costa, a professor of practice, gave the 50 students in Kiewel’s class a semester-long assignment: form teams and come up with a comprehensive plan to create and market an imaginary new product.

Kiewel joined forces with JJ O’Brien ‘14 and Nicholas Rivera ‘15, both finance majors, and Dalisbeth Galvez ‘13, a journalism major. The team opted to make “Carefree Cupcakes” that would be sold in an upscale supermarket in a kit including frozen batter, icing, sprinkles and disposable trays. All the ingredients would be organic; none would be genetically modified.

“Our cupcakes,” says Kiewel, “would be for busy moms who don’t want to sacrifice time or quality or freshness but want to bring something healthy and tasty to their kids’ events. At the same time, they don’t want to be the mom who brings something that’s too sugary or artificially sweetened or that contains hydrogenated oil products.”

The student teams in Entrepreneurship 101 began their projects by analyzing the marketing plan of a successful product. They identified the customer segment, described the problem to be solved, studied current solutions and developed a new one. They wrote an elevator pitch for the real company and then applied what they had learned to their imaginary products.

Each student on Kiewel’s team brought different assets. Galvez contributed design and Photoshop experience, while O’Brien completed CAD (computer-aided design) drawings and determined product and manufacturing costs. Katie assessed the marketing potential for the cupcakes, while Rivera studied cash flow and industry growth and potential.

“It can be intimidating to design a new product and validate its market potential,” says Kiewel. “You have the opportunity to explore different paths and try out your creativity. But you’re not spoon-fed the material, and there are no right and wrong answers. If you are used to multiple choice tests and set reading assignments, this can be a challenge.

“In order to feel confidence in an idea, you have to do market research, and you have to talk to people in the industry, look at consumer behavior and look at the potential risks.”

“Lift as you climb”

Outside the classroom, Kiewel has found no shortage of opportunity. As a resident adviser and now a member of the leadership team with the Innovation and Leadership Residency (ILR) program, she has helped organize networking events with faculty members and human resources professionals. She is also co-president of the Lehigh chapter of Caring for Cambodia, an organization founded by William J. Amelio ’79 and his wife, Jamie.

In January 2013, Kiewel traveled to Shanghai for two weeks through a new program called “Doing Business in China” that is sponsored by the College of Business and Economics as part of its Global Lab.

Last summer, she worked with the Pennsylvania School for Global Entrepreneurship (PSGE), a residential camp for high school students that is sponsored by Lehigh’s Iacocca Institute.

In October, Kiewel took part in LehighBostonStartup2013, a two-day immersion program held during Pacing Break. In the greater Boston technology hub, she met entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and transactional lawyers, and also joined a panel discussion. The program was sponsored by Lehigh’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation.

This summer, Kiewel has been accepted into the Tauck Scholars Program. Endowed by Arthur Tauck ’53, the program gives business students who are juniors and seniors the chance to work as interns in foreign countries over the summer.

A recurring theme to all of her learning experiences, Kiewel says, is the involvement of Lehigh alumni, who have visited many of her classes and played key roles in PSGE, ILR and the BostonStartup. One alum who has been particularly active is Tim Marks ’03, who cofounded the successful aquarium technology company EcoTech Marine while still a Lehigh student.

“Tim came to PSGE and to several of our classes,” says Kiewel. “It was really cool to see that, even though he has done really well, he continues to help current students.

“The professors are also really dedicated here. To me, it seems as if Lehigh people want to bring you with them when they’re successful. As some people say, ‘Lift as you climb.’

“This is a really tight-knit community. That’s one of the things I love about Lehigh.”

Next week, Kiewel is traveling to Kenya with help from a grant from Lehigh’s sustainability program. Over spring break, she will contribute her business skills to the Soccer Queens, a women’s soccer team that was recently admitted to the Kenyan Premier League. The trip will be led by Mark Orrs, director of sustainable development and professor of practice in the department of political science, and Todd Watkins, professor of economics and director of the Baker Institute.

There is an underlying philosophy to the frenetic pace of her life, Kiewel says.

“I’ve always had an interest in increasing value and efficiency. Time is our greatest resource. More and more, I realize that it’s limited. I’m always aware of how I’m spending time.

“I see opportunities all around. When I hear about them, I think, ‘Why not?’ I’m completely blown away by the amount of personal and professional growth that can result.

“All you have to do here is ask.”

Photo by Ryan Hulvat

Story by Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014

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