Traditional Ma and Pa shops were thought to be a thing of the past, but now these small businesses are becoming the new focus of universities across the country.
And students are all for it.
“We are noticing in our generation that starting [our] own business is something a lot of people are interested in,” said Kiven Pierre, business student at Syracuse University.
The number of schools offering undergraduate majors in family business has quintupled in the past 10 years, from two to 10, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
That stat is the tip of the iceberg, said Northwestern University’s John Ward, a family business studies expert.
“I find that the number of family business classes is growing very fast,” he said.
This trend led the University of Vermont’s (UVM) School of Business to hold the first ever case competition dedicated to family enterprise Jan. 9 to Jan. 11.
The competition, ending today, consisted of 16 teams from schools across the country and throughout the world including Sweden, Canada, Malaysia and Columbia, to name a few.
Pramodita Sharma, chair and founder of the Family Enterprise Case Competition and editor of Family Business Review, said she created this competition because she felt there was a strong need for a focus on family business.
“A large majority of the world consists of family-run businesses — 60% to 90% depending on the country,” she said. “We must train students and prepare them for success.”
Sharma said she strongly believes that the case competition helps students understand how people from other parts of the world deal with similar issues to their own in the business world.
“Top students from top universities across the world are looking at the same case,” she said. “Learning from each other is an experience they will share with five generations: their grandparents, parents, friends and colleagues, their children and hopefully their grandchildren.”
UVM faculty member and competition coordinator Rocki-Lee Dewitt said some people know a lot about family dynamics but not about business practices or vice versa.
“It takes a grand combination of these two things in order to address family business,” she said. “Students exposed to this puts them in a much better perspective for finding a job.”
Hope He is one of the competition’s 16 ambassadors, a position in which he assists foreign students find their way around Burlington, Vt., since there is often a language barrier.
“It’s a good chance to interact with people from a different area,” He said. “And competition is always good.”
UVM senior Ryan Little applied to be an ambassador because of the networking experiences and as a way to meet people.
“On a larger scale, I saw this as an opportunity to learn,” he said.
In the competition room, the students give a 20-minute presentation during which they provide a solution for a problem with a fabricated family business.
Four judges then have 10 minutes to ask the student team questions — during which they often role play as the family members from the case — before deliberation.
Porsche Nichols, Max Jones and Kiven Pierre, second years at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, had three hours to prepare for their presentation about a fruit basket business in the Northeast.
“They did pretty well,” Coach Alex McKelvie said. “We are very new in terms of family business programs compared to a lot of the other schools, but they did well and with more training and experience, next year they will do even better.”
The winning team, announced at the end of the competition, received the UVM Family Enterprise Cup and $2,500.
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