The young entrepreneurs had their company name (“Stomper Grounds”), had their target market (fans of the Minnesota State University Mavericks), had their start-up financing ($5,801 from United Prairie Bank), had their product (portable lawn chairs and koozies featuring the Mavericks’ mascot), and had their product supplier (Creative Ad Solutions of North Mankato.)
“When we had it all buttoned up, then the university shot down our idea,” said Max Milow, a senior business major at MSU and chief executive officer of Stomper Grounds.
Seems that Stomper, the beloved bovine symbol of MSU athletics, put his hoof down at the prospect of having his snout on Frost Buddy koozies — the versatile insulating sleeves designed to keep a variety of bottled or canned beverages cool. University leaders, who have trademark protection on the mascot, felt that the koozies promoted alcohol consumption, which is something Stomper doesn’t condone.
The 16 MSU students who made up “Stomper Grounds” now had lawn chairs and koozies to sell that could make no reference to, well, the cow that inspired the company name. Also on their minds was that loan that needed to be paid back from their sales revenue, a promise they’d made to donate company profits to the Mankato Area United Way and the impending judgment of a trio of MSU business professors who would be grading them on their company’s performance.
“Some pretty good experience,” Milow said of the Integrated Business Experience class assignment. “A lot of real-world stuff.”
MSU’s College of Business is preparing to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its IBE class, which has pushed hundreds of students in the past decade to write a business plan, establish an organizational structure, seek private financing, set and manage a company’s budget, effectively communicate internally and externally, market a product and much more. Over the years, the students have formed companies to sell windshield covers, tote bags, backpacks, stocking caps, gym bags, coasters… .
For the employees and management team of Stomper Grounds, the top real-world lesson might have involved overcoming adversity when the business plan is trampled by university concerns about protecting a mascot’s wholesome image.
Not only was their GPA on the line, there was also that binding contract with United Prairie Bank.
“We all had to sign off on that loan, so we’re personally responsible,” said Abby Lundquist, Stomper Grounds’ chief marketing officer.
So what happens if an IBE company’s revenue falls short of the amount needed to repay its real-world loan?
Milow didn’t know: “It’s never happened.”
And it didn’t happen with Stomper Grounds, even after a certain Maverick stubbornly decided to go his own way.
Company “employees” found a graphic-design major who agreed to create a cowless logo for “Stomper Grounds” — essentially just the name with some earthquake-like faultlines around the letters. The design, and the company’s marketing efforts, were effective enough that the 50 lawn chairs have sold out, along with about two-thirds of the 154 koozies.
Sales will continue through this week with the loan being repaid on April 29.
More information is available at https://stomper-grounds.myshopify.com/.
“We hit break-even last week, so that was a good feeling,” said Lundquist, a Waconia High School graduate.
Milow, a Corcoran native who graduated from Rockford High School, is hoping that a check approaching $2,000 in company profits will be heading to the United Way.
And the company leaders were savvy enough to turn the charitable donation into a potential boon to Stomper Grounds’ image in the community, sending out a press release highlighting its generosity.
“All of us at Stomper Grounds care deeply about our school and the community as a whole,” Milow said in a written statement included in the news release, sent out by the company in conjunction with the United Way.
Lundquist also included a canned quote that tossed in some praise for the university’s business college: “I think I speak for any IBE student when I say that this program is so beneficial not only in terms of challenging yourself and learning but also connecting with the community along the way.”
While the sentiment was undoubtedly sincere, it also had some strategic value. After all, with the semester — and the five-month existence of Stomper Grounds — nearing their end, the three professors who oversee IBE will be grading the performance of the students.
First, though, the company leaders will be doing that for their underlings. Milow will be writing a performance evaluation for Lundquist and for the two students who served as the chief operations officer and the chief financial officer. Each of those three executives will be doing the same for the teams of three or four workers in their department.
All of the evaluations will go to instructors Shane Bowyer, Kristin Scott and Nguyen Nguyen.
“That’s a big part of our grade,” Milow said of the performance evals.
Along with all the business lessons, Milow and Lundquist said IBE students also learned about interpersonal dynamics in operating a business. Milow said he saw the importance of identifying and utilizing the unique strengths each worker has. Lundquist got a better sense of the attributes she’ll be looking for when she’s seeking an employer or an employee as a real-world businesswoman.
“I want to be around people who want to help out and step in when needed,” she said.