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OSU Update

June 10, 2011

Oklahoma State University students work with South African entrepreneurs

STILLWATER, Okla. — Two dozen Oklahoma State University students will be landing in South Africa over the weekend, and they will spend the next six weeks acting as consultants to local entrepreneurs.

The students will be arriving in Cape Town, South Africa, today and Saturday, where they will be working with two faculty members from OSU’s Spears School of Business, as well as a professor from the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.

The students are participants in Entrepreneurship and Empowerment in South Africa, a program sponsored by OSU, CU, Texas A&M’s Mays Business School and the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town. The program is designed to help entrepreneurs in the historically disadvantaged township around Cape Town grow their fledgling businesses.

While there, the students will work in small groups made up of American business students and 15 students from across Africa. A number of nations are represented, including Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Namibia, said Michael Morris, the head of OSU’s school of entrepreneurship and the program’s lead instructor.

Each of the groups will work for six weeks with two entrepreneurs each to try to solve problems that are keeping their businesses from growing. Each team is required to produce four so-called deliverables, or solutions to problems, for each client over the course of their stay in South Africa, Morris said.

Although the program’s requirements are difficult to manage, Morris said, the students’ success is crucial — people’s livelihoods depend upon it.

“We’re messing with people’s lives here. These people that we work with, many of them, if they don’t sell something today, they don’t eat,” he said. “So failure is not an option.”

Matt Villarreal is one of the students in the program. Villarreal graduated from OSU last month with a degree in entrepreneurship. He’s spent the past several weeks reading background information on customs and social issues in South Africa. He’s also met with his consulting team, he said.

Villarreal is part owner of a Stillwater-based startup business, called CleanNG, that makes parts for compressed natural gas vehicles. He spent the last few weeks tying up loose ends so he could leave his responsibilities in the hands of his two partners.

“That’s been a little bit more difficult than the rest of the stuff,” he said.

The South Africa trip is Villarreal’s first time outside the United States. Travel abroad is important, he said, because of the growing international nature of business.

“Everything’s going global,” he said.


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