NACOGDOCHES, Texas — More than two dozen Stephen F. Austin State University students majoring in a variety of subjects spent the semester exploring local businesses to learn about the challenges owners faced on their paths to success.
The students, who are either members of the Rusche College of Business Economics Reading Group or participants in the college’s “Discovering Business in Costa Rica” study abroad course, are considering how to start their own businesses.
“The entrepreneurial spirit is growing fast among SFA students, and we want to be intentional about nurturing it,” said Dr. Tim Bisping, dean of the Rusche College of Business. “Opportunities like these help a variety of students come together to share ideas and learn how to run businesses that reflect their diverse passions, from fitness centers to clothing lines to medical practices.”
Inspired by “Roadside MBA,” a book by three leading business school professors who traveled the country to learn from small business owners, the students visited with the owners of three local businesses: Turner Fabrication, MyMD Select and Helping House.
“All of the business owners were phenomenal,” said Dr. Ryan Phelps, associate professor of economics and finance at SFA, as well as faculty advisor for the Economics Reading Group and the “Discovering Business” study abroad courses. “This term really had something for everyone.”
Turner Fabrication, owned by Matt Turner, is a turnkey solution contract production facility in Nacogdoches for precision machined parts and weldments. Workforce Solutions Deep East Texas named it the region’s Small Employer of the Year in 2022.
“Turner revealed the value of skilled trades and an accessible pathway to starting and growing a thriving business,” Phelps said.
Nacogdoches physician Dr. Jeremy Smith launched MyMD Select in 2014 to work with employers to provide better and more affordable direct primary care for their employees. MyMD Select now has locations in Jacksonville, Longview, Lufkin, Nacogdoches and Tyler.
With his knack for finding talent, Smith also partnered with top consultants to create MyMD Connect. This service helps physicians grow their direct primary care practices by connecting them with individual patients, self-funded employer groups, third-party administrators and innovative medical management solutions.
“MyMD Select demonstrated the value of the right consultants and that there is always room for profit even when the market is already mature and saturated,” Phelps said. “In actuality, Jeremy Smith has utilized the power of the market in the realm of health care where the typical market — driven by the direct interaction of buyers with sellers — is generally absent.”
Helping House, a private school and resource center in Nacogdoches for children on the autism spectrum, was opened in 2008 by teacher Amanda Johnson and parent Josie Johnson. They believed better services and therapy could be provided to children in a highly structured setting with a low student-teacher ratio. The Helping House has served over 300 children and their families through multiple programs.
“Our meeting with the Helping House continued the theme of finding a solution when the existing options are broken,” Phelps said. “Helping House and MyMD Select really revealed that business can and does have a heart.”
The Economics Reading Group and “Discovering Business” students learned how much businesses are a reflection of their owners.
“There’s no way I would try to run someone else’s business,” said Barret Williams, president of the Economics Reading Group and a sophomore from Wake Forest, North Carolina. “Many of these businesses are completely inseparable from their owners, especially in the early years.”
But Williams does see himself launching his own business after earning his economics degree.
“The principles from ‘Roadside MBA,’ the advice from these local business owners on creating barriers of entry for hiring candidates and differentiating my business from my competitors, and the raw passion shown by these founders give me the confidence to know if I ever have an idea, I can turn it into a business,” he said.
The Rusche College of Business continues to offer students more ways to explore businesses and their entrepreneurial spirit with its “Discovering Business in Croatia” course July 23-31. The study abroad trip, which is open to incoming first-year students regardless of major, offers the following:
- Faculty-led, three-hour-credit course
- Immersive experience in a foreign culture with tours of Croatian businesses ranging from sweet treats to automobiles
- Sightseeing in cities, including Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik
- Scholarships to offset trip costs
- Opportunities for students to create a Lumberjack family before arriving on campus
“No matter a student’s major, that student will most likely either work for someone else’s business, start their own or both,” said Drew Thornley, SFA associate professor of legal studies and a co-instructor for the course. “We want to better equip these students for their professional lives, regardless of their future paths.”
For more information about the Croatia trip, visit gosfa.com/3SN3gkm.
ABOUT STEPHEN F. AUSTIN STATE UNIVERSITY
Stephen F. Austin State University, the newest member of The University of Texas System, began a century ago as a teachers’ college in Texas’ oldest town, Nacogdoches. Today, it has grown into a regional institution comprising six colleges — business, education, fine arts, forestry and agriculture, liberal and applied arts, and sciences and mathematics. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SFA enrolls approximately 11,000 students while providing the academic breadth of a state university with the personalized attention of a private school. The main campus encompasses 421 acres that include 37 academic facilities, nine residence halls, and 68 acres of recreational trails that wind through its six gardens. The university offers more than 80 bachelor’s degrees, more than 40 master’s degrees and four doctoral degrees covering more than 120 areas of study. Learn more at sfasu.edu.