In April 2009, Virginia Tech seniors in business information technology within the Pamplin College of Business are publishing The Online Business Guidebook, a 40-page, hard-copy guide that aims to be a one-stop manual for students and other fledgling e-business entrepreneurs.
The guide makes the information more readily accessible to aspiring business owners “than if they had to search the Web or find bits and pieces of information in magazines,” said Mike Levisay, who graduated in December 2008 and is the guidebook organization’s CEO for spring 2009.
Most e-business textbooks and guidebooks are very costly and do not provide enough paced instruction, said Alan Abrahams, an assistant professor of business information technology who proposed the guide as a course project. The course, Business Analysis Seminar in Information Technology, focuses on developing and using decision support systems as managerial tools in e-commerce.
Abrahams said he envisaged many potential benefits from the project, including opportunities for the students to do research, apply what they learned in class, and gain business experience. An additional benefit would be the scholarships and projects that the students plan to fund with the proceeds of guidebook sales.
The students established a not-for-profit organization to publish the book. They organized themselves into five functional groups to undertake tasks related to planning and administration, budgeting and bookkeeping, developing a website and monitoring its traffic, developing content for the guidebook, and managing its design, printing, and distribution.
Besides Abrahams and Levisay, the students are guided by an executive board of current and former students, an advisory board of faculty members, and, on a day-to-day basis, a student executive director.
Chris VanEvery, a senior from Falls Church, Va., serves as the executive director and coordinates activities to ensure that each team is on schedule to achieve its goals. He assigns tasks when necessary and motivates team leaders and members. “We have been building our customer and advertiser database by way of class assignments,” VanEvery said. The class assignments help the students in setting up various aspects of the business, he said, but completing them also allows the teams to focus more fully on their business deadlines.
A sample edition was published by the fall 2008 founding class, funded by small grants from the business information technology department and the college's undergraduate career services office — and personal donations from the nine founding students. In the spring of 2009, the project received a $2,000 grant from Deloitte — adding to the nearly $4,000 in funds contributed by the class of almost 40 students.
The guides will be sent to business professors across the nation to distribute to their students as well as to business incubators, accelerators, and small business development centers to share with their current and prospective clients. The mailing list of about 18,000 business professors was compiled by students in both senior and junior business information technology classes that Abrahams teaches. According to Abrahams, the book has already attracted an inquiry, “from professors at [the University of Pennsylvania's] Wharton [School] and Columbia Business School who have an upcoming Harvard Business Press textbook, asking if they could piggyback a flyer advertising their book on our mailings!”
Abrahams and the students said they also plan to use the guide to promote information technology studies and careers to high school students. “We want them to know that IT offers a diverse range of career possibilities; it’s much more than consulting and programming.”
Abrahams said he is delighted that the project is already fulfilling the educational goals he had in mind. “My students are not passively sitting back and receiving knowledge but are creating and disseminating knowledge and using it themselves in a practical way to grow their own business,” he said.
Employer demand for business information technology graduates continues to be very strong amid a shortage of graduates in the field. Enrollments, however, have continued to drop since the 2002 dot-com crash. Read more.
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