History of Entrepreneurship

 BUFFALO, NY - In 1982, Alan G. Weinstein, PhD, taught the first entrepreneurship course offered at Canisius. It was taught at the MBA level. The objective of the course was for students to write a business plan about an entrepreneurial project that, if launched, would be successful. Weinstein’s goal was to bridge the gap between an entrepreneurial idea and a business plan. The assumption behind this was that once students learned to write a good plan, they would be in a position to start, purchase or join an entrepreneurial company with their eyes open to opportunities and risks.

One of the highlights of this course was the successful entrepreneurs who visited class to speak with students about their own startups and share insights. Sal Alfiero, CEO of Mark IV Industries was a frequent presenter, as was his partner, Clem Arrison. Lori Northrup told students how she grew from a small hand tool manufacturer to a leading company in her industry through acquisitions and innovative products. Ron Plesch recalled the story of how he went from a tool-and-die maker at Ford Motor Company to a multimillion dollar manufacturer of chains and gears. Chris Collins shared his story of how he and three other colleagues from Westinghouse bought one of its divisions and renamed it Nuttall Gear. Collins talked about his business plan and how he financed this venture with the help of Marine Midland Bank. Others, who left corporate careers to launch businesses, added a great deal of credibility to the careful planning of entrepreneurial businesses: Warren Embledge spoke about his purchase of McCullough Coffee; Peter Ruddy, owner of the local Pella Windows distributor, spoke about how he found this company, and ultimately bought and expanded it. Every entrepreneur had a unique story to tell and the students received a glimpse of the realities of being an entrepreneur.

One particular class of MBA students stands out to Weinstein. That class included Andy Shaevel, who later launched RSA with Stu Angert and Devon Cohen; Richard Spear, who became one of the leaders of Crowley Webb Advertising; and Cindy Oak, co-owner of Winfield Industries.

While Weinstein taught the first entrepreneurship course at the graduate level, similar coursework at the undergraduate level was lacking. The curriculum did, however, allow for a few electives so Weinstein began to offer “entrepreneur projects” in his Organizational Behavior courses. The first time he did this, he cleverly coordinated it with Spring Carnival. Students wrote business plans around the sale of products related to this event. One student created a business that brought in food for MBA students who, at the time, met in the old AT&T Building. There was no food or vending machines and this student, whose family ran a food business, established a stable operation, which MBA students supported.

There were several students who launched similar projects but perhaps the most remarkable was Jim Kessler’s. According to Weinstein, “this student had a strong entrepreneurial spirit and was looking for faculty support.”

Kessler took a marketing course which peaked his interest but there was no follow-up course. He had already started selling food to dormitory students and was about to launch a corner store, which catered to students in the evening. Kessler was negotiating with Larry Franz, PhD, the vice president of finance, to pay rent in exchange for running his business. This later led to Kessler’s running of the Rathskeller, where students gathered socially in the evenings and weekends. Kessler managed the Rathskeller and provided food service under the watch of Larry Franz.

Kessler’s entrepreneurial spirit later led him to consider launching a business outside of Canisius. He had a vague idea, which was stimulated by the game of Paint Ball. Kessler wanted more courses that allowed him to pursue his entrepreneurial interests and was frustrated with the curriculum in management. He approached Weinstein, who offered him an independent study, which required Kessler to write a business plan on his idea. The two met frequently to discuss various phases of Kessler’s plan. It soon became obvious that this plan had some traction but it needed technology, financing and branding in order to launch. Kessler didn’t have the background in these areas and therefore needed to recruit people to help him in the venture. Kessler invited Weinstein to join the project. The Canisius professor did and was instrumental in helping to both launch the business and raise capital. “One meeting we had in my office stands out because we were able to put a name to the concept in the plan,” recalls Weinstein. “Jim had recently seen a movie, TRON, and he liked the name and symbolism. I was interested in the technology of the game of ‘capture the flag,’

which is what we referred to in discussing the game. I liked the concept of using laser technology in the name because we originally thought that we would use lasers to register hits on phaser sensors. Out of this brainstorming for a name, we came up with Lasertron.”

Weinstein taught the MBA course in entrepreneurship every other year until the launch of the Entrepreneurship Center in 1990. Four faculty representing four business disciplines, all with an interest in entrepreneurship, met and planned the strategy for beginning a Center that would attract community entrepreneurs to take a course designed to complete a written business plan. In addition to Weinstein, those faculty included Richard Wall, PhD (finance), Gerry Rosenfelder, PhD (management), and Guy Gessner, PhD (marketing). With a $5,000 grant administered by the Buffalo School system, the team launched the college’s first program in January 1990 with 15 businesses. The program was called Entrepreneurial Planning and it ran once a week for 10 weeks.

Early on, the Center recruited local entrepreneurs to join the faculty in teaching the course content. Dick Wehle (HR) and Fred Attea (legal) were part of the teaching group. However, Canisius faced competition from SUNYAB, which launched its own Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership with financial commitments from several prominent entrepreneurs including Sal Alfiero, Frank Ciminelli, Paul Snyder Sr, and Gerry Lippes. Weinstein saw this as a missed opportunity for Canisius since Alfiero and Lippes were former clients of his, and Alfiero had presented in several of Weinstein’s classes. That made Weinstein even more determined to be the truly entrepreneurial program in town. With some help of local newspapers, the Center grew the program, ever expanding its offerings. Canisius gave the Center the necessary space to grow, first in the basement of the Science Building and then across campus in the newly- acquired Mount Saint Mary’s High School.

Wall and Weinstein heard of a program where the Small Business Administration, through support of Congress, was granting money to support local entrepreneurship programs. The two went to Washington and met with congressional leaders and their staffs. They returned to Canisius encouraged that the Center could get the financing necessary to help grow the program. They wrote a proposal aimed at expanding the entrepreneurial planning program, a key manager program a center for technology transfer and a family business center, with the help and support of John LaFalce, who at the time was chair of the House Small Business Committee. Canisius was awarded a $150,000 grant from Congress.

For the first time in its brief history, the Center for Entrepreneurship could now hire people to help expand its footprint. A Board of Advisors was established and key personnel were hired to run new programs. Most of these hires were entrepreneurs who had successfully launched and sold their businesses. Among them were John Weiss, who ran the original and expanded Entrepreneurial Planning Program and Lisa Wehle, who ran the day-to-day operations.

Weinstein was still a full-time faculty member but a course reduction enabled him to oversee the Center. In the next year, he created the Institute for Family Business, funded initially with part of the Congressional grant but later by sponsors who paid between $5,000 and $10,000 to support the program.

In its first year, the Institute for Family Business had 42 paying family businesses attending programs, which included nationally-renowned speakers and forums run by Weinstein, Dick Wehle and Fred Attea. As the Institute grew, new professionals in family business joined its ranks and the Roots and Wings Program for Retiring, Aspiring and Champion Family Business Leaders was launched. The program offered workshops created and facilitated by such local professionals as Peter Wendel, William “Chip” Valutis and Jeff Liebel. The Institute continued to bring in national and local programs on family business topics. It even had a local group of improv actors put on a play about family business succession. Some of the family businesses that participated in the program were Lawley Insurance, Perry’s Ice Cream, Father Sam's Bakery, Elderwood Affiliates Nursing Homes, Uncle Sam’s Bakery, Bippert's Farms, Kaiser Cadillac Dealership, Cook Moving and Storage, Buffalo Wire Works and several families with financial interests. Amy Habib and her daughter were members. Her daughter, Amy Habib Rittling, is now a family business attorney at Lippes, Mathias,Wexler & Friedman. Two other members of the Habib family, who took Weinstein’s MBA entrepreneurship course, joined and rescued the failing family business in Dunkirk, NY. They recently sold Petrie Cookies and continue to run the company

One of the more successful family business programs was the Family Business Awards Luncheon at which family businesses were honored. These businesses were models of family business succession, conflict management and community leadership. Perry's Ice Cream, Greatbach Medical, Hunt Real Estate are some of the family businesses honored by the Institute.

Eventually, John Wynne replaced John Weiss and continued to run the original entrepreneurship program and oversee the office after Lisa Wehle graduated from the MBA program. Jim Billings, Jon Watson and several other entrepreneurs served as mentors to students. Many graduates of the program went on to become prominent entrepreneurs, including Scott Weinstein, CEO of Safetec; Rick Posa, CEO of Samco Technologies; Nancy Ware, CEO of Edukids; Bob Galdys, CEO of Building Controls; and Jim McHugh, former CEO of Personal Touch Food Service to name a few.

The Center for Entrepreneurship and the Family Business Institute were highly successful in bringing local businesses on campus to learn about entrepreneurship and family business. In recognition of their contributions to entrepreneurship education, Alan Weinstein, Rick Wall and John Wynne were honored by receiving the prestigious Edwin Appel Award from Babson College. Babson has long been recognized as a leader in entrepreneurship education, helping universities to create programs and courses promoting entrepreneurship. In 1964, Success Magazine named Canisius one of the best 25 business schools in the country for entrepreneurs

Not all of the Center's programs were successful, however. The Technology Transfer Program put on some excellent workshops but failed to get enough members to sustain it. The program ceased operations in its second year.

One of the major weaknesses of The Center for Entrepreneurship was the lack of a succession plan and the lack of financial support from the college. In 1997, Weinstein went on sabbatical. Upon his return, the college administration decided to bring in new leadership to run the Center. This leadership failed to attract entrepreneurial businesses and develop innovative programs. The Institute for Family Business lost most of its members and sponsors. The Center closed its doors in 2000, 10 years after its launch.

But the tale does not stop here.

In 1998-1999, Canisius, with the help of a campus-wide committee, launched an academic major in entrepreneurship. Although a program on paper, it really did not gain momentum until Ji-Hee Kim, PhD, associate professor of entrepreneurship, arrived in 2006 and developed the curriculum with the help of grants from the Kaufman Foundation. Fifteen entrepreneurship courses were developed, as a result, and most of them were taught as required or elective courses. With continued support from the Coleman Foundation and other grants, Kim shaped what is now a full-fledged undergraduate major in entrepreneurship with more than 50 students enrolled in the program. She also created three new student organizations.

Canisius Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO) is a chapter of the National Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization. The Canisius chapter has won first place in several categories at national conferences. Kim also won national recognition as the #1 faculty advisor to a CEO chapter. CEO also organizes the annual Elevator Pitch Competition. The Canisius champion participates in the national elevator pitch competition. CEO has sponsored a guest speaker series, bringing many nationally known entrepreneurs to the college to speak to a campus wide audience.

A second campus organization created by Kim is My Link Face. This student-run social entrepreneurship initiative has more than 100 Canisius students serving 700 clients in foreign countries. The goal is to help these foreign clients learn to speak English.

Kim also launched the Can Do Society at Canisius. This honorary organization is for students who are interested in entrepreneurship and who maintain a grade point average of 3.5. The society has monthly dinner meetings with local entrepreneurs, sponsors an annual speaker series and offers assistance to the annual Vistage All City Meeting, which hosts more than 70 local entrepreneurs.

The original goal of immersing entrepreneurship students in entrepreneurial environments became a reality under Kim’s leadership. Her efforts earned her the Undergraduate Teacher of the Year Award by the Wehle School of Business.

Patricia Hutton, PhD, professor of economics and finance, is another outstanding faculty member who contributes to the entrepreneurship program. She launched the Canisius chapter of SIFE (now called Enactus), in 2004, to encourage students to engage in entrepreneurship. Enactus is a campus-wide program that involves students in entrepreneurial ventures. One of the successful student businesses that grew from SIFE was Quad Graphics. The students involved in creating this business also enrolled in Weinstein's entrepreneurship course. They wrote the business plan for Quad Graphics and grew the company revenues to profitability. The business is ongoing and handed down from seniors to juniors, allowing them to experience running a small business.

In 2007, Hutton was named the college’s first Tower Professor. The funds from this professorship were used to expand Enactus into three unique programs, all designed to enhance social entrepreneurship: BESO, an acronym for Building Economic Sustainability Overseas, provides Canisius students an opportunity to travel to Morelia, Mexico to take language classes and teach Morelians how to make consumer products out of recycled chips to be sold in Buffalo. Proceeds are returned to the artisans. Learn & Earn helps children in grades 3-6 learn the importance of saving and delayed gratification. REDI, an acronym for Refugee Economic Development Initiative, helps refugees living in Buffalo. Enactus students helped local refuges write business plans, seek seed capital and teach practical skills that had the potential to yield salable products. Another initiative, YES, helps disadvantaged teens learn about business.

The work of Enactus takes Canisius students out of the classroom and into both the local Buffalo community, as well as Mexico, to foster entrepreneurial spirit where there is little support for financial independence. Hutton’s work as the advisor of Enactus has been recognized nationally. She received the Jack Kahl Entrepreneurial Award for outstanding contributions made by the local chapter.

Another Canisius entity established by one of Weinstein’s entrepreneurship MBA students, Maureen Millane Rusk, PhD, is the Women’s Business Center. Millane Rusk won a grant from Congress to start the Center, which quickly grew into one of the area's largest programs for women to learn about entrepreneurship. The program is alive and thriving today. In a conversation with Millane Rusk, she viewed the Woman's Business Center “the heir apparent to the Center for Entrepreneurship.” While totally separate in time and financial support, the model of helping community entrepreneurs lives on through this program.

In 2009, Weinstein proposed Entrepreneurs on Campus to Antone (Joe) Alber, PhD, then dean of the Richard J. Wehle School of Business. This proposal was not met with immediate success. Only when Andy Shaevel intervened did Alber agree to fund this program with a summer stipend to put it together.

The goal of Entrepreneurs on Campus was to find 10 active entrepreneurs who wouild agree to support the Canisius College Entrepreneurship Programs with time and money. Today, 13 entrepreneurs are actively involved in supporting student organizations, entrepreneurship courses, elevator speech and business plan competitions, and student internships. Currently, four subcommittees are looking for ways to enhance the entrepreneurship experience of students and to support continuing efforts to improve the curriculum and funding of student scholarships. Among the 13, two are former students of the Canisius Entrepreneurship Program: Nancy Ware and Andy Shaevel. They are also the first two chairs of Entrepreneurs on Campus.


The History of Entrepreneurship at Canisius was written by Alan G. Weinstein, PhD.