By Jimmy Dooley
I decided to go to graduate school amidst a global pandemic, largely because of the low interest rates for student loans. I studied advertising and marketing at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale and felt I had the entrepreneurial spirit but lacked the resources or ideas necessary to start my own business. When I was accepted into the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, I thought the Master of Science in Entrepreneurship program would round out some of my weaknesses.
This program feels less like a series of classes, and more like a combination of lessons
The classes I have taken at Kellstadt are all connected. I often find myself referencing concepts from one class in an assignment for another. In my undergraduate program I questioned the relevance of my curriculum, but the Master’s in Entrepreneurship program is simple; it gives students exactly what they need to be an entrepreneur.
During my second quarter I signed up for the “Social Enterprise” class, hoping to learn more about how to create a sustainable business of my own. The course revolves around a team consulting project for a few different mission-driven ventures in Chicago. A “mission-driven venture” or “social enterprise” are terms for businesses that are driven not solely by profit but by the greater purpose of helping others.
My group and I were assigned HHPLIFT, an online nonprofit marketplace for artisan crafted goods. HHPLIFT creates business for social enterprises with workforce development programs that support and expand job opportunities for people with significant barriers to fair wage employment.
We were charged with creating a marketing strategy for a new product line, launching this spring, crafted by refugee women in a fair-trade work environment.
Halfway through this team project I recognized a big problem in the social enterprise space: the marketing was sloppy. Branding was all over the place, and most companies fail to deliver the story customers want. After analyzing numerous competitors, I recognized a clear need for an advertising agency devoted to the social enterprise industry.
I recognized the problem; how do I create the solution?
My idea was simple. Why not create my own advertising agency solely focused on social enterprises and sustainable businesses? I just needed help creating the solution.
So, I signed up for 1871, Chicago’s digital start-up community.
When I first started my degree, I was really lost on how to get more involved at Kellstadt. I figured there wasn’t much point in joining a club if I was only going to be there for a year, much less join an organization that can’t even meet in person. But despite school being online, I found I had everything I needed to turn an idea into a business.
1871 is a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs and a fantastic resource for DePaul students. They take your idea at any stage of the business-planning process and get you the help you need. Whether you’re creating a new social network or re-inventing the wheel, 1871 has the answer to your questions.
Meanwhile, towards the end of the social enterprise class, we learned about the different types of funding models for mission-driven businesses. One funding model that stuck out to me was the hybrid model, where a company is for-profit and socially responsible. I decided this was the direction I wanted to take for my own social enterprise venture.
Time doesn’t stop, even during a global pandemic
Time has not slowed down since the pandemic started. Businesses have had to adapt to the new environment or close, and I have a fraction of the social life I once had— but now I have the time to pursue my passion. A lot of my distractions have vanished, and I’ve had to make an easy but critical decision. Do I kill the time the pandemic has given to me, or do I take advantage of it?
Without the help of my professors at DePaul and the staff at 1871 I wouldn’t have the confidence I have now to pursue my idea. I’m slowly working on putting thoughts into action and plan on committing myself full-time to my venture once I graduate in June.
If there is one thing the MS in Entrepreneurship program at Kellstadt has taught me it’s how to identify a problem and create the solution. Today, I’m no longer the confused advertising student from last September. I can be the next entrepreneur, and I have the resources available to me—even in this virtual space—to bring my ideas to life.
A revised curriculum for the MS in Entrepreneurship Program at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business is debuting completely online in fall 2021. Learn more on the program website.
Jimmy Dooley graduated from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He spent most of his undergraduate degree underwater as a four-year member of the Saluki men’s swim team and attributes most of his work ethic to his athletic career. With the help of 1871, Jimmy is currently pursuing his passion of starting an advertising agency for sustainable businesses.