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Lessons Learned Locally: An Ithaca Entrepreneur And IC M.B.A. Inspires Students Through Business Class

Written by Alyssa Letsch
9/30/2011

Heather Lane owns Purity Ice Cream and teaches an Entrepreneurial Spirit mini course at IC.

Anyone who’s spent some time in Ithaca knows about the scene at Purity Ice Cream on a typical Friday night—outdoor and indoor seating areas overflowing with friends, teammates, families, and couples; lines stretching out the door of people eager for a taste of Icy Buns, Sleepers Awake, Finger Lakes Tourist, or Bulldog Crunch. But it takes more than a quality product to run a successful business, and Fuse got the inside scoop from Purity co-owner Heather Lane M.B.A. ’10, who now shares her expertise with students in the School of Business in her one credit course Entrepreneurial Spirit.

Purity Ice Cream is an Ithaca institution, providing specialty ice cream and baked goods since 1936. Lane, who bought the business with her husband, Bruce, in 1998, has helped turn the business into a thriving staple of local flavor and culture.

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Over the course of seven weeks (half a semester), the course provides an introduction to business planning, which consists of four parts: industry analysis, marketing, operations, and finances. But students don’t just learn about business plans, they actually create one. The course is taught every block, and students typically work in teams of two. They can focus on an industry that interests them or one they feel that Ithaca is currently lacking. Section by section, students research, number-crunch, and brainstorm, figuring out how to create demand, value, a unique selling point, and an innovative twist for their product or service. Ultimately, for their final presentation, they create a full business plan for their hypothetical company.

Katie Tascione ’13 and her teammate chose to develop a concept for a green cleaning and recycling service, which they called RecyCLEAN. “We both worked really hard on researching what other green cleaning services were like, such as how much they charged per clean, what types of rooms they would provide cleaning for, and what the average salary was, so that we could make our business plan as realistic as possible,” says Tascione.

Business administration major Samantha Kaufman ’11 wants to go to culinary school when she graduates, so she wrote a business plan for a full-service catering company and restaurant that would provide the community with an upscale yet affordable café, as well as event planning and catering services. Her company also emphasized buying locally and implementing a composting waste management system. “I was finally given the opportunity to apply the lessons I was taught in my business courses and redirect them with a culinary twist!” says Kaufman.

“It’s a different type of work,” says Lane of the class. “It’s hands-on and it’s transferable.” Moreover, it’s practical. Lane encourages students to think about what’s realistic and to consider even the worst-case scenarios. “Who will give them money? What if you can’t get a bank loan? You have to be creative.”

Though the business plans focus on a hypothetical business, the process for developing a real business is very much the same, and the learning experience is invaluable. Ithaca has seen many alumni open up new businesses, including Emmy’s Organics and UpYourCard. Who knows? Entrepreneurial Spirit could very well be planting the seeds for another successful new venture.

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