Smeal senior capstone course taps into students' entrepreneurial spirit

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State Smeal College of Business students in Nancy McClure’s accelerated section of BA 411 Analyzing Business and Industry pitched business plans to an executive panel of judges as part of their final projects late last month.

The winning team pitched an idea for an electronic tablet that would allow musicians to move through a piece of sheet music without manually turning pages. As part of their pitch, the students presented technology costs, compared features with existing competitors and talked about possible partnerships with sheet music providers.

According to McClure, an instructor in accounting, her section of BA 411 serves as a capstone course for seniors by integrating topics areas into a wider view of how business works.

“Writing, presenting and defending a business plan on interdisciplinary teams requires students to hone the skills that they have developed within their own major and also to develop and employ cross-disciplinary written and verbal communication skills,” said McClure.

The course gives students a chance to either develop a business plan for their own ideas or work with an existing BA 411 partner. This semester, four of the five teams brought in their own ideas.

“To develop these plans, they must do the industry research, complete marketing surveys and assessments of the market, construct the financial projections and operational plans and create an argument that will convince potential investors that their plan is likely to succeed,” said McClure.

This semester’s panel of judges included John Anderson, director of operations at TekSystems; Mike Lynn, retired CFO of Avail Technologies; John Tierney, partner, advisory services at Ernst & Young LLP; Tara Weiner, managing partner in the greater Philadelphia region at Deloitte LLP; and Bill Zally, a consultant and certified public accountant.

“To prepare a sound business plan and then present and defend it to an executive panel requires a level of dedication and maturity that will serve these students well in their careers,” said McClure.

After each presentation, the panel asked difficult questions about financials, research, marketing plans, risk analysis, cost benefit and more.

“I am always impressed with how much students mature during the 16-week semester. Students develop resilience when their plans don’t always follow the path they originally planned, which is common in business development,” said McClure.

She continued, “I am committed to Penn State’s tradition of excellence, and I believe that Smeal students can achieve the highest standards. In setting challenging but achievable goals for my students, my hope is that they will develop exceptional business planning and communication skills, and will also build their confidence as future members of the business community who hold the highest ethical standards and a continuing commitment to excellence.”

Last Updated September 10, 2013