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Five-day business leads to something more for marketing students

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“The Virgin Bar,” which sells cool, nonalcoholic drinks to students and passersby in a fun atmosphere, created a lot of buzz around campus this spring.

Students often tell Jay Markiewicz, executive director of entrepreneurship programs at the VCU School of Business, that his “five-day business” class project is their favorite.

“Students want to be challenged, bring their own brilliance to the table, then showcase their work fully taking ownership of the results,” Markiewicz said.

The project has groups come up with an idea, be it a product or service, and try to make a profit from it on five consecutive days. The assignment helps students understand the entrepreneurship journey: How an entrepreneur thinks, feels and acts when starting a business.

There are no strict guidelines to the assignment, which allows students to be extra creative.

“These are student-driven ideas, and they can do anything they want for their five-day business,” Markiewicz said. “This process affords them the experience of entrepreneurship in a controlled manner where they learn market-driven validation, actual customer interaction, the emotional ride of things working well (and those that don't), teamwork, and the intangible qualities difficult to convey inside a classroom like grit, hustle, emotion and courage.” 

This spring’s projects ranged from on-site Rain-X applications to beard care products.

One enterprise, “The Virgin Bar,” which sells cool drinks to students and passersby in a fun atmosphere, created a lot of buzz around campus.

virgin bar

It was easy for the group to agree it would target college students, since the venture would take place on campus, said team members Connie Ngo and Joy Lexpong. Next, they had to identify an unmet need that college students endure.

“Access to food and drink during campus peak hours are almost impossible,” Ngo said. “Lines are super long and the wait is endless and sometimes you simply do not have the time because of your class schedule. This is when we decided that we wanted to do something food related.”

Who wouldn't want to sip on something cool and refreshing on the way to class?

Since the business would launch in late spring, the students thought selling some sort of cold beverage would be a hit, but with so many places on campus they had a lot of competition, so they wanted to be different by offering nonalcoholic cocktails. The Virgin Bar was born.

“The appeal is there for our market,” Ngo said. “Who wouldn't want to sip on something cool and refreshing on the way to class? And we also said we could make drinks under a minute to up our competitors. Also we played popular music to draw in the crowd, so the environment would be party-like, and gave out leis to everyone who got a drink and told them ‘YOU JUST GOT LEI'D at The Virgin Bar!’ It was a hit!”

The students put everything they learned in class into this final project. From the human story — who we are and what makes us who we are — all the way to value proposition: Who are the customers? What is their unmet need? How can this be the solution to their problem?

How prepared they were relied on how much they were willing to take from Markiewicz’s lectures, Ngo said. He guided them, but taught that success was based on them and how much they believed in what they were doing and how much effort they were willing to contribute.

“Learning takes place independent of the success of the five-day business to drive revenue,” said Markiewicz, who has run the project for two years. “Students sometime learn more from things not working out. The final presentations are rewarding and engaging for students as they ‘own up’ to their results witnessed by their peers and community judges. Honestly, it’s inspiring.”

Ngo and Lexpong hope to relaunch The Virgin Bar during VCU Welcome Week in August.

“We decided to continue because we think that The Virgin Bar is something different and we had so many customers who returned everyday asking us to continue it,” Ngo said. “So we wanted to give it a try and we got so much positive feedback from people. Joy and I just love seeing people happy when they take that very first sip.”

 

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