An Entrepreneurial Legacy

The Bluffton legacy of Dr. Howard Raid is not lost on Denise Durenberger, the university's new assistant professor of business.

Raid, who taught business and economics on campus from 1947 until his retirement in 1979, was also an entrepreneur who turned his Bluffton Slaw Cutter Co. into a hands-on business laboratory for his students.

Denise DurenbergerDurenberger has talked to some of those alumni, whom she says were "very passionate" about the value of their time at the slaw cutter company. They had freedom and empowerment—going on sales calls, for instance—to feel like they were making a difference, she explains, noting that a new perspective on learning is offered by "being able to sink your teeth into something and experience it in a different way," as those former students did.

Current students want the same thing, Durenberger adds, and she hopes to provide them with opportunities not only as a faculty member arranging internships but also in her other job—as executive director and lead mentor at the Bluffton Center for Entrepreneurs (BCE), a university partner.

She started her work at the center in May. At that point, the BCE had seven affiliates, including two resident clients at its East Jefferson Street location—Drive Time Driving Instruction LLC and Superior Energy Solutions—and five non-resident clients. Two more affiliates are coming on board this fall, availing themselves of the center's services to startups.

Finding suitable space at a reasonable cost was the biggest obstacle facing Doug '84 and Sara (Mayes '86) Kisseberth before they opened Drive Time in spring 2010, Sara Kisseberth says. But they found what they needed at the Colonial Surface Solutions Doug and Sara (Mayes) Kisseberthbuilding that BCE calls home—office space that could double as sufficiently large classroom space and a parking lot big enough for the "driving range" where students practice. "It's just a nice, open, convenient space," she says, also noting its easy accessibility from Ohio 103—which becomes Jefferson Street in Bluffton—and Interstate 75.

Identifying clients' individual needs and pairing them with Bluffton students who can help is an ongoing priority for the BCE, says Durenberger, who holds a master of business administration degree from the University of Findlay. "Each one of our clients has a different set of needs they're focusing on," she points out, listing financing, bookkeeping, marketing plans and promotions as examples.

For Drive Time, a current focus is what Sara Kisseberth calls "marketing to 16-year-olds," about which she and her husband think Bluffton students might have some ideas. Doug Kisseberth, who spent time at the Bluffton Slaw Cutter Co. en route to his business/accounting degree, has talked to Durenberger, "and we're looking forward to working with students to get their input," Sara says. Adding that the BCE has already helped them with business networking opportunities, she says they're also interested in student assistance with an industry benchmarking study of money spent on marketing.

"Our business is going well with what we're doing, but I know we could do more," she says. Combined, about 500 students have completed driver training at Drive Time at its Bluffton and Findlay locations since the first classes were offered in April 2010.
Bluffton students have done research and prepared and presented marketing plans for BCE clients in the past, says Durenberger, and the center will soon be sponsoring a business plan contest open to both local entrepreneurs and students. With the potential to provide a fresh perspective in general to individuals trying to launch a business, students can contribute in more specific ways as well, such as envisioning use of social media in promotional plans—new marketing that entrepreneurs are quick to latch onto, she says.

In another specific case, Durenberger cites a client, KTL Fabrication, whose owner has developed a roller that shows promise as a safer alternative to installing gravel berm along roads. He has been invited to a national conference this winter to discuss his innovation and, since she covers trade shows in her teaching about sales, she believes students may be able to assist in preparing the presentation.

"I see a lot of potential to get our students involved with entrepreneurs," says Durenberger, a marketing instructor at Fremont's Terra Community College last year and a former advertising and marketing executive at two Findlay-based tire and rubber companies, Cooper and Hercules. "At the end of the day, it's about finding people who can work well together and spur business forward."

In addition to its partnership with the university, the BCE is part of the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA). The association defines "business incubators" in part as nurturing the development of entrepreneurial companies, helping them survive and grow as vulnerable startups by providing services and resources. Among the most common goals of incubation programs, adds NBIA, is job creation.

"Our goal is to nourish the development of new businesses and encourage job growth in the community," says Durenberger of the BCE, which will host its third annual art auction fundraiser Nov. 12 at The Centre in Bluffton. To the job-growth end, she is reaching out to entrepreneurs in Allen, Hancock and Putnam counties, noting that while the center is trying to attract jobs to the Bluffton area, it also has clients in Ottawa, Delphos and Arlington.

For their part, the Kisseberths have added five part-time instructors at Drive Time since summer 2010. Their entrepreneurial journey had begun less than a year before that, after Doug was asked about his interest in buying the driving school where he was working at the time. That offer fell through, but Sara says "it got us excited" about starting a school, which was up and running a matter of months later.

"It was definitely a whirlwind," she recalls, noting that Doug, who already had four years' experience in driver education, had to be licensed as a training manager before they could open. "But I had no doubt, the way he connects with teens, that this was going to work."