New Entrepreneurship Degree to Equip the Next Generation of Business Innovators

Person Working on Laptop ComputerThey’re creative, passionate, perseverant, and willing to take risks. They put in long hours, build their dreams with their own two hands, and will tell you there isn’t anything else they’d rather be doing. These McKendree Business alumni come from all different backgrounds, ages, and industries, but they have one thing in common: they’re entrepreneurs.

This fall, the university is blending its rich history of alumni who own their own businesses with a new Entrepreneurship degree designed specifically for students with that same drive. The unique major in Entrepreneurship will guide students through the completion of every aspect of starting a new business. With hands-on coursework in everything from raising venture capital to franchising and consulting, the program is intended to fully prepare students for embarking on their own business enterprise upon graduation.

“Most statistics indicate that Entrepreneurship is on the rise in the U.S. and many other countries,” said Dr. Jean Sampson, associate professor of management and marketing.

Quotation Graphic"Some of our professors in the School of Business are or were entrepreneurs, and we believe our experience will support such a major. I think the background of the professors and the focus on all aspects of owning one’s business will set students up nicely to open the doors to their business as soon as they leave our steps."

For many Business alums who have since become entrepreneurs, the new degree demonstrates McKendree’s continued commitment to helping students achieve their goals while benefitting the local economy. Much like the valuable relationships they’ve formed as business owners, the supportive community they encountered on campus as students helped give them the confidence to take a chance on their dreams and succeed. Take a look at what some of our entrepreneur alums have to say about their own experiences and their words of wisdom for McKendree’s first class of Entrepreneurship majors.


Travis Teeple '04
Travis Teeple ‘04

  • Founder and President of PlayKleen, LLC, located in Seattle, Washington

  • Manufactures microfiber golf towels used by players of the PGA Tour

Why did you choose to come to McKendree for college?

I joined the Air Force and came to the area after being transferred to Scott Air Force Base. McKendree was a private university close by, and I heard a lot of great things about it. I liked the convenience of being able to take classes on the Lebanon campus.

Where did your career take you after graduation?

I knew I wasn’t planning to make the military my career. I wanted to get back home to Seattle to work in the family business my grandpa had started in 1971. I took advantage of the opportunity for an early release from the military and began working as the vice president for my family’s industrial supply company. We opened a second branch in Tacoma in 2006, and I started managing it and growing our customer base there.

In 2008, the economy started having problems, and I remember getting an email from my dad, the company president, saying he was going to have to cut my pay. I decided to start my own business to create more income.


What first gave you the idea to start your own business making professional-grade golf towels?

I loved golf, and I wanted to do something in an industry I loved. I knew a manufacturer in Cleveland that had an aerosol foaming spray to clean golf clubs. I thought, I can market this! We called it Club Scrub, and I started to think about products to complement it. The microfiber towel was just starting to come onto the golf scene as a textile, so I ordered 150 pieces of material. Instead of microfiber, though, I got cotton, and I found out the hard way that real microfiber is only made in Korea and China. I then ended up teaching myself how to import products from China.


What are some of the most enjoyable and challenging parts of owning your own business?

One of the best parts has been seeing something in my imagination being executed and then making a profit. It really shows the power of your mind. I like the customer service side too and being able to donate to charity events. Golf is very philanthropic, and it’s been great to be a part of it.

Everything was challenging about owning my own business when I first started. Capital wasn’t abundant then, and I had to find creative ways to do things without money. Another challenging part was dealing with the communication barrier with my Chinese suppliers. Ultimately though, when you love something, it doesn’t seem like work.


What were some things you learned at McKendree that have helped you in your career as an entrepreneur?

It was great to get a general, comprehensive overview of business terminology. Now, when I’m sitting down with my accountant or attorney, I understand what they’re telling me and I’m able to talk with them about things like balance sheets and income statements.


What are your thoughts on McKendree’s newest degree program in Entrepreneurship?

I think Entrepreneurship is really the heart of the American spirit. It’s a high stakes area because you’re either using your own money or you feel responsible for someone else’s when you start a business. I think it’s a good idea to expose students to the basics of Entrepreneurship beforehand and give them the confidence they need.


What skills do you think students should develop now that will help them in their future career as business owners?

The most important skill is good communication. You have to communicate and form relationships with so many people: your vendors, customers, and employees.

In addition to school, students should also find a mentor in the business community. When you have a relationship with a mentor, you can see what you’re learning applied in the real world. While I was at McKendree, I had a mentor named Sid Keane, who ran a local insurance group. I would go to lunch with him periodically, and what stood out to me was how his company treated their people. They communicated with their employees on a professional, fun, energetic level. Learning doesn’t stop outside the classroom, and that willingness to learn will go a long way.




Sandy (Meyer) Richter ‘83

  • Owner of Sandy’s Back Porch in Belleville, Illinois

  • Grows and sells plants and gardening merchandise

Why did you choose to come to McKendree for college?

I would have been lost in a big university. McKendree had small classes, and I needed that personal attention from my teachers. I could relate with them, and they all knew who I was.

What was your career like before starting Sandy’s Back Porch?

I knew early on that I wanted to be an accountant. While I was in high school, I had an office occupation, and during my senior year, I started working as an accountant. A lot of my friends were doing the same thing. We left school at noon and went to our jobs. After that, I went to SWIC for two years and then came to McKendree while working full-time in St. Louis. Once I graduated, I took the CPA exam, and it took me two times to pass it. I was also raising a family of four kids.

How did you come to the decision to start your own business?

I’ve always been an outside person, and when we bought our first home, I really enjoyed the gardening aspect of it. When my youngest was in fourth grade, I went to work at a garden center because it was always something I wanted to do.

My uncle owned a greenhouse business in Nashville, Illinois, and he knew the owner of a tree farm in Belleville who might be interested in selling. I saw the place one time and fell in love. It was actually built to be a nursery, so we continued that tradition by remodeling and buying two greenhouses.

What are some of the most challenging and enjoyable parts of owning your own business?

High season for us is a six-week window, so it’s a lot like farming. Our business is tied to the economy and the weather.

One of my favorite parts is hiring people that I like to work with. I ask for their opinion on a lot of things, and I appreciate their input. Unlike a corporation where you have people making decisions without your knowledge, we come up with an idea and we do it. It’s like working with family every day. I also love flowers. Who wouldn’t want to be in a greenhouse planting geraniums in January?

What advice would you give to students who would like to start their own business, but may not have much experience yet?

I couldn’t have done it without my accounting background and the support and advice of my husband, who is an attorney. You need to think long and hard about what family support you’ll have and how much money you’ll need. You have to have passion to make it last because it’s too easy to walk away on the hard days if you’re not passionate.

You also need to surround yourself with good people who know business. You may think you know it, but you’ll make mistakes and learn a lot in the trenches. Go work in the industry for several years just to learn the business, and then go out on your own. It’s taken me five years to learn the business and then another five to learn to make money. Hiring a consultant in the industry will also make a huge difference because they can talk to you about what to do differently.

What was your experience like in McKendree’s Business program?

I remember being terrible at marketing, but now I do it all the time. Sometimes you don’t understand how a class will be necessary later on, but they all integrate into your career. I also had a professor who talked about how even taking a pen from work is stealing from your employer, and that aspect of being honest and moral stuck with me.

The people I went to school with had an impact on me too. Some of my classes had seven people in them, so you really got to know them and build relationships with them, which is valuable to have in your career. You know you can always reach out to them.

What do you think about McKendree’s newest degree program in Entrepreneurship?

We need more entrepreneurs and small businesses. Buying local puts money back in the community. It sounds like an awesome program for those who want to pursue their own business.

It’s also good to know about business no matter what your major because it can go with other things. If you’re majoring in Biology, you’ll need these Entrepreneurship skills if you want to open your own lab.



Mike Yociss '00
Mike Yociss ‘00

  • Owner of Scuba World, Inc., in Swansea, Illinois

  • Provides scuba diving lessons, sells and rents diving equipment, and organizes trips to dive sites around the world

How did you get into the scuba diving business?

I first got into scuba diving at McKendree when I took it as a physical education class. I knew I wanted to start my own business, and I fell in love with it. I was simultaneously going to McKendree for Business while I was getting trained in scuba. Then I ended up working at the shop where I got certified. McKendree has an excellent Business program, and it was a great place to get an education to go with my drive to start a business.

What prompted you to start your own business in this field?

Number one, I had a passion for it. Number two, I saw things that could be improved upon if I was running my own scuba business. Like most entrepreneurs, I saw a niche where I could succeed and grow, and we’ve been in business for 25 years now.

What are some of the hardest parts of owning your own business? What are your favorite parts?

The challenging part is that, as a business owner, you have to wear many different hats. Some people think you can be familiar with one part of the business and then hire the rest out, but they’re mistaken. You need to be familiar with all aspects of it because you’re overseeing all the departments. McKendree gave me that well-rounded education that covered all the areas.

My favorite part is that when you work hard, you see the benefits. You might think that a business owner gets to pick all their hours and gets paid first, but it’s quite the opposite. Most of the time, you’re the first one there, the last one to leave, and the last one that gets paid. It’s rewarding to see it through to fruition, though, and watch your idea grow. I also love my customers. We provide sales, service, rentals, and travel, and I love working with them.

What did you learn at McKendree that has helped you as a business owner?

McKendree did a good job of covering all aspects of business. You have to know your accounting. Marketing and economics are also a must. It wasn’t one particular class for me, but it was getting a balanced understanding of all these topics.

What skills do you think students should develop now that will help them in their future career as entrepreneurs?

It all boils down to people skills. You interact with many different people between your customers and employees, and you should be for the most part decent in people skills. The new Entrepreneurship degree seems to open up discussion on these kinds of topics in owning your own business, and I think exploring those opportunities will be an asset.



Haley (Klingelhoefer) Jansen ‘10
Haley (Klingelhoefer) Jansen ‘10

  • Owner of Bird’s Eye Embroidery in Mascoutah, Illinois

  • Creates and embroiders custom and existing logos/designs, sells yarn and items to embroider

What gave you the idea to start your own business in embroidery?

I knew I didn't want an office job where I sat at a computer doing the same thing every day. In the embroidery business, I am constantly moving and doing new things every day.

How did you first get into the field of embroidery that made you want to make a career out of it?

My mom and I started as partners in the business. When we purchased the first machine, we took a two-day course in Denver, Colorado, on how to use the machine and the computer programs that run it. I picked up on it so quick and loved doing it. Since then, every day has been a learning experience, and I have actually taught myself a lot along the way. That's what I love most about my career; I keep learning as I go.

What have been some of the most challenging and enjoyable parts of being an entrepreneur?

The most challenging part is making sure to keep your customers happy and knowing when to stop being in work mode. Being the only employee, it can be difficult to separate myself from all the responsibilities. It can be hard to take my mind off work when I'm constantly connected via my phone with calls, texts, and emails.

The most enjoyable aspect is setting my own hours and working for myself. This is especially nice now since having my daughter who is three months old. I am able to bring her to work with me, which makes having flexible hours a life-saver!

Dr. Jean Sampson, associate professor of management and marketing, mentioned that you were one of several alumni entrepreneurs who sought advice and guidance from McKendree Business faculty related to your business. What were some things you sought Dr. Sampson’s help on?

Just the fact that Dr. Sampson remembers who I am after seven years is a testament of why I chose McKendree. The professors care and have genuine interest in your future. I was able to do an independent study with Dr. Sampson during my senior year, where I wrote my business plan. We did it section by section, with her reading and giving notes and advice along the way. Every business course I took has come in handy in some way, as well as the communication classes. I use accounting, economics, and marketing skills pretty much daily.

What skills do you think are most important for students to cultivate to succeed as business owners?

Organization is important for scheduling and keeping deadlines. Communication: you should be polite and clear while communicating with customers and/or employees. Reliability and loyalty: you want to gain and keep the trust of your customers and employees to keep them coming back.

What one piece of advice do you have for students considering signing up for the new Entrepreneurship program?

I would have definitely loved to have been able to major in Entrepreneurship. The idea and concept of owning your own business is amazing, but be aware that it is A LOT of work. Everything is your responsibility and everything falls on your shoulders. The amount of success you have is solely determined by the amount of hard work you put in. I fully believe that if you do what you love, then the hard work won't seem so hard. You've got to enjoy what you do!


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