By Cliff Foster
Adrian Barragan, 36, is a jack-of-all trades in the Denver Public Works Department. He’s also an artist who enrolled at MSU Denver as a part-time communication design student to “hopefully open up some doors.”
Well, the doors are starting to open, thanks to his ambition and a course in entrepreneurship through the Center for Innovation.
The center offers a minor and a certificate in entrepreneurship but also attracts students like Barragan who take one or more classes as electives. Since the first course was offered in 2009, students from every academic major except physics have sat in an entrepreneurship class, and enrollment this spring stands at about 200—37 percent more than a year ago, according to center Director Mick Jackowski.
Barragan nurtured his inner entrepreneur in the Artrepreneurship course, which is designed to give students the tools, techniques and resources to turn their passion for art into a thriving business. This spring, he and his wife plan to sell their own and other artists’ custom apparel, accessories, small prints, vintage decor and more from a renovated 1995 Grumman Olson delivery truck similar to the kind UPS uses. He’ll keep his city job, but has high hopes for the appropriately named “Denver Fashion Truck.”
“As an artist, business has not been my strong point,” he says, adding that without the course, starting a business “probably would have been a rougher journey. I believe it helped to shorten the margin of error.”
Since 2009, entrepreneurship courses have drawn the most students—216 —from the School of Business followed by the schools of Letters, Arts and Sciences (173) and Professional Studies (154). A total of 113 undeclared majors have taken courses as well as 97 students in the Individualized Degree Program.
The center also has made a deliberate pitch to artists, musicians and designers. It has taught students from the departments of Art (43), Music (36) and Industrial Design (18).
“They want to live their life doing something they truly love,” says Jackowski. “We’re here to show them how to do the business side of it and turn their business into a work of art.”
Jackowski attributes the growth of the entrepreneurship program to the caliber of the faculty, the visibility of the program—the center has a high-profile showroom on the ground floor of the Student Success Building—and the recession, which prompted many laid-off workers to return to school.
“We had a lot of people coming back to get a degree and start a business,” he says. “And we’ve been able to show some actual examples of success,” including five start-ups emerging from the first graduating entrepreneurship class last year.
This semester, 37 students are pursuing minors in entrepreneurship. Among them is Mark Johnson, a 25-year-old junior who has teamed up with Jeremy Priest (’12) in an online start-up venture called The Knotty Tie Co., which will craft custom neckties designed by the customer. Johnson expects to launch in June.
“The entrepreneurship program has given me a lot of great connections and has gotten me thinking in ways I wouldn’t have been thinking originally,” he says. “My eyes have been opened to a lot of new ideas through the Center for Innovation.”
The two entrepreneurs are using Kickstarter to help get their company off the ground. As of today they have exceeded their $5,000 goal with more than $15,000 raised.
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