Indiana State University Newsroom

Business Engagement Center grant helps empower entrepreneurs

April 19, 2017

VentureWell has awarded a $30,000 grant to the Business Engagement Center at Indiana State University to promote entrepreneurship and solve a social problem.

Applying for the grant required "E-teams" -- or teams of students working on a project that proposes a solution to a social problem. The E-team's proposal was to create a course that would educate students on entrepreneurship and solve a social problem.

The Business Engagement Center is an outreach between Indiana State and the community and helps for-profit and not-for-profit businesses grow and launch by lending the expertise of its students and connecting potential small-business owners and entrepreneurs to resources. The center receives referrals from the Small Business Development Center, Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, Terre Haute Economic Development Corporation and Launch Terre Haute.

"The traditional view of community engagement is working with kids, cleaning up sidewalks, painting buildings or volunteering at not-for-profit facilities. As part of the Division of University Engagement, we do the same thing but in a different manner. To the Business Engagement Center, community engagement involves helping individuals start or grow a business, or helping them to grow their entrepreneurial skills," Pigg said. "It really doesn't matter -- wealth creation for that individual, job creation for the community, the creation of some type of company or product or offering that has the potential to bring jobs and economic activity to the area."

As a part of the grant, Eric Anderson's class of seven students is working on a water filtration system for areas that don't have access to clean drinking water -- an issue that prior to Flint, Michigan's public crisis seemed very far away from home.

"Our group is such that we're meant to benefit the community in our own way, and the way we do that is by helping businesses start-up and grow and helping individuals figure out whether their business idea has potential, and then to connect them to the resources that they need," Pigg said.

Pigg recognizes that the difficulties of navigating entrepreneurial resources are different for everyone.

"I think with any business, finding the right resources is probably the biggest challenge. In our geographic area, there are entrepreneurial resources, but they're scattered," Pigg said. "Individuals struggle to find the right resources. Ultimately, they need someone that can mentor them. Someone who is brutally honest in the assessment of their business or idea, and someone who can point them in the right direction for resources."

After an individual has obtained the right resources, entrepreneurship may be the ultimate leveler. Pigg demonstrates how coming from a lower socioeconomic background introduces unique challenges for entrepreneurship: limited access to healthcare and capital, lack of a support network and less of an emphasis on education.

"A crucial component of being a successful entrepreneur is a strong support network, whether it's family, personal mentors, or other individuals. Unfortunately, research shows us that less affluent individuals lack the strong support network that more affluent individuals traditionally have. The reality is that the entrepreneurial community in an impoverished area such as ours needs and relies on our entrepreneurship and community engagement resources."

Business Engagement has had a positive response from the community and from the businesses they have helped, such as the Wabash Valley Health Clinic, Twisted Fry and DJ Danny Wayne.

"We're happy to say we helped them, but they would have made it whether we stepped in or not," Pigg said of Twisted Fry.

Last year, the Business Engagement Center worked on 49 projects and spent more than 5,000 hours on projects and student activities.

One part of the VentureWell grant focuses on solving a social problem such as clean water, while the other half which supports the Business Engagement front may be solving an additional social problem for Terre Haute and similar Midwest cities.

Pigg says that like many small, Midwest towns, Terre Haute faces declining wages. Average family income has declined steadily over the years, he says, and hourly income in the area of production and manufacturing has declined while hundreds of jobs have disappeared.

"The services we provide are meant to create jobs and bring us back to where we were several years ago. Every job that we can help create has a positive effect on our community," Pigg said. "That's the importance of it at the end of the day."

In addition to unlocking individuals' potential to be job creators, Business Engagement also donates its services to not-for-profits, so these services can focus more resources on the services they provide -- many of which aid struggling and unemployed people.

"Whether we're doing annual reports, business planning, website development work or logos -- every dollar we save them is a dollar that they can provide in the form of services, whether it be medical, dental or housing -- every dollar that we save them can go back into our community."

Pigg says that when these not-for-profits become more effective at helping lift people out of poverty that creates a ripple effect that further helps the local economy.

"I know it sounds crazy, like how can you claim that you're helping people for generations down, but the reality is that if you help one person and they're able to attain a better education, access to healthcare, a higher wage, higher family income, pride of home-ownership, those types of things, that's what they push to the next generation," Pigg said. "We become our fathers and mothers in a sense."

Pigg's father was a truck driver and neither of his parents graduated from high school, although Pigg's parents demanded that him and his siblings finish high school and go to college.

"I don't want to see you doing what I'm doing in 30 years," Pigg remembers his father telling him. "You don't want to work this hard with your hands, 10- to-12 hour shifts and driving an hour to get there. You don't want to miss your family for a whole week because you're working. You need to use your mind and you'll go a lot further, make a lot more money, and you'll be a lot happier, too."

Pigg followed his dad's advice, and not only is he happier, but so are those who he helps through the Business Engagement Center, like Danny Wayne Beemer's mobile DJ service that has been around for 25 years.

"I came to the Business Engagement Center at Indiana State University with hopes for a new life online," Wayne said. Wayne's business received a website makeover and a modernized logo to accompany his brand. Audie Spencer and his team also helped Wayne transition to a new web-host and email and worked on a direct marketing plan.

"During one direct mailing I saw a 40 percent increase in business as a result of the marketing tools provided by the Business Engagement Center at ISU," said Wayne, who plans to visit the center for additional social media strategies as he expands his entertainment services to Indiana and Illinois.

Pigg says it is important to connect people with resources because they don't realize their potential until they see it demonstrated.

"You don't know you're poor until you have money, and you don't know what you can achieve or do unless someone shows you," Pigg said. "We're all products of where we come from, and by nature, that's what influences us. That being said, we all have the opportunity to be greater than where we came from and what we started with."


Photo: -- Audie Spencer

Contact: Daniel Pigg, Director, Business Engagement Center, or 812-237-2530

Writer: Kristen Kilker, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, or 812-237-3773