“I have no idea if this is feasible or not -- I just made up this scenario. It’s up to you guys to prove to me that it’s feasible.”

Ken Szymusiak, the managing director of Eli Broad College of Business’ Institute of Entrepreneurship, was giving his students an imaginary scenario to work through in the Hive, as he does every class.

Szymusiak’s introductory Business 170 class always starts with a brief lecture and a problem to solve before he sets his students free to their respective corners to do so. He checks up with each group before the students leave, otherwise they work independently. The mull of chatter and the occasional laughter, especially when students are talking with Szymusiak, is constant inside the classroom.

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Ken Szymusiak, the course instructor, challenges his students with a “what if..?” scenario at the beginning of class.

Despite competing against other one-credit classes, like basketball and bowling, Szymusiak’s class has been maxed out for the past four semesters it’s been offered. And it always take place in the Hive.

“The Hive lends itself to the class,” Szymusiak said. “It allows each student to own a space, and each space is really well-suited for brainstorming and diagramming -- there is no better space for teamwork.”

Szymusiak, who was behind the construction of the Hive along with David Wheeler of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and Tim Hinds of the College of Engineering, said he started with the space and built the class to fill it.

Hitoki Okamoto, an economics junior taking Business 170, said he likes the space better than a normal classroom.

“Any space [in the Hive] is available to you unless it’s a class where you have to sit in [the same] seat,” Okamoto said. “It’s a good place to do group work, but at the same time, a TA or professor has a harder time going from group to group.”

As for the class itself, Okamoto initially took it because his friend was in it but found it interesting that he could relate the coursework and thinking back to his own major.

He is working with his group on a small business venture called Rent-a-Puppy.

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Hitoki Okamoto (left) and his group partner, Nikki Ishbia (right), work through that day’s “deliverable” assignment.

Nikki Ishbia, an undecided freshman in Okamoto’s group, said the service would be directed at students.

“We started with the idea that college students are really stressed out and puppies help everything,” Ishiba said. “A customer would go onto the website and order the puppy, kind of like you pick the puppy that you want and a caretaker would take it to you for an hour or so.”

This is just one of the many student projects created in Szymusiak’s class, which focuses on business model creation.

Szymusiak said the wide variety in his classroom -- from undeclared freshmen to Ph.D. students -- helps him create teams with a diversity of majors, interests and ages.

First, the groups self-select a problem that needs to be addressed.

“What do we run into that we know there is not an answer for yet?” Szymusiak said. “So then we brainstorm solutions and settle on potential solutions and then continue onto the customer discovery process: Who would buy it and why?”

For Matthew Elias, a freshman business major, that pesky problem was deck staining.

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Matthew Elias (right) and partner Jahanzaib Nadeem (left) are done for the day and decide to tackle some math work together.

The idea originally came from Elias’ uncle, but he decided to explore it further with his group.

“There is a composite material that we can apply to the tops of wooden decks and increase lifetime of the deck. And it won’t rot and the owner never has to paint or stain again,” Elias said. “We found a company in Ohio that manufactures this composite material, but nobody ever thought to put it on decks.”

Once an idea springs up and is researched, Szymusiak said, the next step is to complete the checklist on the business model canvas, which gives a framework for building a product.  

“If you can answer the nine boxes, you may have a business worth pursuing,” he finishes.

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This Business Model Canvas sits enlarged and printed in the middle of Szymusiak’s classroom.

The nine boxes include key partners, key activities, key resources, value propositions, customer relationships, channels, customer segments, cost structure and revenue streams.

The final step is to “build” the Minimally Viable Product (MVP), which is a low-cost way to build and sell the product or service.

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After Szymusiak presents a challenge at the start of class, he then gives the task to be “delivered” to complete the assignment.

“By the time they’re done, they present it all,” Szymusiak said. “It’s an accelerated way to look at it, but if you unpack all the things we did and spend a series of months working on it -- the things we do can be applied to just about any startup or business activity.”

One former student of Ken’s class said this “accelerated” look helped him lay the groundwork for business design in the creation of his new app, “Squeel.”  

Jonnie Rozin, a sophomore advertising student, said he took Ken’s class just as he was also becoming familiar with the The Hatch on campus, which was a good combination.

“My experiences with the class were phenomenal,” Rozin said. “To me, that is what college should be. You should be able to work on something you love and get real world experience.”

The Squeel app is meant for sports trash talking but also includes live score updates and the ability to upvote or downvote comments. It’s meant as a niche product for all of the dedicated sports fans -- and trash talkers -- out there.

“I owe a lot of what I know to that BUS 170 class,” Rozin said.  “It has taught me so much and propelled me so far that I don't know where I would be today if I had not taken that class.”

Makerspace(s):