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5 ways to transform classmates into business partners

From classmate to business partner

Ever brainstorm with a classmate about a business venture? Don’t dismiss that thought without exploring the idea: Parlaying a classmate or Learning Team relationship into a viable business partnership is a feasible reality.

“The University of Phoenix Learning Team model … gave us the blueprint to create our own business and it gave us the skills and confidence to knock on doors to make our idea work,” says Kareem Dixon, MAED/AET and 2010 graduate of the University. Dixon co-founded the community outreach business, Fathers for Life, with fellow graduate Francis Milton, MBA, while both pursued a Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree at the Tacoma Learning Center.

This blueprint — establishing a mission statement and then adhering to the SWOT business analysis model — kept their business idea simple, explains Milton. Cindy Sakai, MAOM, and Sarah Kalicki-Nakamura, MAOM, agree. They launched TH!NK LLC (a training consultancy firm) after graduating from the University of Phoenix School of Business at the Hawaii Campus in 1998. Both business partnerships encourage students to help turn classroom bonds into business alliances; read on for their advice.

1. Look for opportunity.
Both sets of business partners say they value the fortunate — if not accidental — business relationships they developed with their classmates. They advise students to go into a classroom or Learning Team, whether virtual or campus-based, optimistic that they could meet future business partners.

2. Seek out those with similar values.
Look for classmates whose personal and work perspectives intersect with your own, advises Sakai. Kalicki-Nakamura says she deliberately teamed with Sakai throughout her courses and on a learning team because she saw both a great support system in Sakai and a person who shared similar work and family life values. Dixon and Milton say they chose to team on course projects throughout their studies after discovering similarities in their military and family backgrounds, as well as desire to help people.

3. Recognize and respect differences.
Look for students whose strengths and weaknesses complement your own, says Dixon, who defers to Milton’s penchant to “do the leg work” when it comes to attracting business clients. In turn, Milton readily relies on Dixon’s articulate public relations persona in his role as company spokesman.

4. Determine which skills matter.
Learning teams and other class project relationships echo business partnerships in that each member takes on a distinct role, says Sakai. She suggests looking for classmates who “pivot and adjust quickly” to project changes, devise meaningful business strategies and communicate throughout an assignment. Also, recommends Milton, look for tenacious teammates with good coping skills who could roll with the punches they would face in starting up a company.

5. Request instructor feedback.
Sakai and Kalicki-Nakamura bounced their business idea off their capstone project instructor, the faculty member who oversaw their final coursework. This instructor encouraged them to turn their idea into a business reality Kalicki-Nakamura notes — and they listened.

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