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Soaring Toward Success: Class Prepares Students to be Entrepreneurs with Cutthroat Competition

Reneè Cathers knows her final presentation in an entrepreneurship class will be one of her proudest achievements at Dalton State.

Five groups in Dr. Allen Curreri’s class participated in a competition proposing business ideas such as a nightclub, an entertainment lounge, and a binge-watching café. But the unanimous winner was AgHawk, a surveying company for farmers in Northwest Georgia.

Seven community judges, plus Dr. Marilyn Helms, dean of the Wright School of Business, made the decision. The winning team was awarded a $500-cash prize and trophies, all of which had been donated to Curreri, a part-time professor of management, by businesses in the community.

Cathers and group members, Zachary Derreberry, Adrian Seguin, and Maria Guadalupe Rodriguez, worked together all semester to develop a sustainable business model, complete with detailed financial projections, challenges they expect to face and how they’ll address them, and customer surveys.

One of the biggest differences in their project and others in the class - AgHawk is not a fictitious business proposed just for a class project. Cathers is the actual owner of AgHawk, which she began to develop six months ago. The company uses drones and cutting-edge software to help farmers identify distressed areas in their crops.

“Other than graduation this is one of my biggest accomplishments,” Cathers said. “How often do you get a cash prize and get feedback from eight successful business people in a college class? I already have a roadmap for this business. My team was amazing at helping me with this. Adrian has a great marketing mind. She developed a logo I’ll actually use. My mind wasn’t on a logo. That’s not one of my strengths. There’s so much knowledge within this group.”

Group members were proud to have a hand in Cathers’ business.

“She was so passionate about this,” Derreberry said. “She sold us completely on this idea. We were glad to work on this project with her.”

Seguin said she and other group members had other ideas for a business for the class, but AgHawk won out over anything else suggested.

“We immediately forgot our own ideas as soon as Reneè explained this to us,” Seguin said. “It was so impressive.”

Bruce Krebs, with Entrepreneur’s Source in Chattanooga, served on the judge’s panel.

“I would consider hiring the person who did the financial spreadsheets for this business,” Krebs remarked as the judge’s deliberated. “These are thorough and impressive.”

“All the groups had interesting and innovative ideas,” said Rob Bradham, president and CEO of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, who served as a judge. “Any of the ideas presented have potential to be successful here in Dalton. What made AgHawk stand out was the level of thought and detail the group members had put into this. It was very well thought out and polished.”

Curreri said the event was a culmination of an entire semester’s work.

“The students covered everything perfectly,” he said. “I wanted them to have real-world training. So we went out into the community. We did surveys. We got outside the classroom to come up with ideas for a new business. I worked more as a consultant guiding the students through this process. Everyone had really great ideas.”

Formal presentations, such as this one, is one of the ways the Wright School of Business is making sure students are ready for the business world, Helms said.

“Students presented in boardroom attire and handed in a complete portfolio with financial statements, marketing analysis, surveys from potential customers, competitor critique, business structure, and roles for each of the student founders,” she said. “Students demonstrate creativity in their ideas and when they graduate, they have the skills necessary to become an entrepreneur. Simulating actual business practices is the best training experience we can offer to ensure our students are business-world ready. Our community judges asked challenging questions about their form of business structure, how they estimated their costs, and if their revenue projections were realistic. Students are now prepared for such meetings with bankers, lawyers, and venture capitalists when they decide to form a new venture.”

Other community judges included, Deanna Mathis, supply chain business solutions manager at Shaw and founder of the Dalton Brewing Company; Elisa Pettit, with the Business Finance Depot; George Woodward, interim director of the Downtown Dalton Development Authority; Bryan Macon, president of Dorsett Industries, a member of Believe Greater Dalton, and a Dalton State community partner; and Tommy Thompson, president of Thompson Energy.