Program provides mentors

by Bill Crotty

There’s something going on at San Diego State and “if you don’t know about it, you should,” Jon Tucker, a 2009 graduate of San Diego State said.
Applications for the Lavin Entrepreneur Program will be accepted starting tomorrow, and graduates of the program say it’s a life-changing experience.

“It will be the year of your life,” Bernhard Schroeder, a program director at the Entrepreneurial Management Center, which runs the Lavin program, said.
The program was founded only two years ago and matches students with mentors who are business leaders, many of whom graduated from SDSU. Some of the previous year’s mentors were John Lococco, Founder and CEO of SoccerFanatic; Kristian Rahuala, founder of H20 Audio; and Wing Lam, one of the founders of Wahoo’s Fish Tacos.

“They talk about the stuff they wouldn’t normally say in public,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder said this is where successful business professionals will talk about the good, the bad and the ugly.

“Students have no idea what they will hear (from the mentors),” Schroeder said. “They’re really just people, they talk about living in fraternities and all the crazy things they did in college, but also how they did lots of networking,” which Schroeder, and many business professionals, said is key to success.

The number of students accepted into the program has increased each year, with 10 the first year, 16 last year and 20 slots available for SDSU students in the 2011-12 session.
A gift from Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Alberto-Culver Leonard Lavin helped the program.

Lavin donated $3 million to the EMC, two-thirds of which was invested for the Lavin program, with the rest not having a specific purpose yet. The money this gift accrues is used to support the program, so the money will never go away.

“Lavin gave us the money for the program and said, ‘Let me see what you can do,’” Schroeder said.

What Lavin created was a program that is changing lives, according to students who went through it previously. Tucker, who received his marketing degree from SDSU, was one of the 10 students who were accepted into the Lavin Program in its first year.

“Having gone through the program, I can’t imagine a student knowing what it offers and not doing everything possible to get in,” Tucker said. “What the program really did for me was to help plan out and fully understand what it means to be an entrepreneur.”

Tucker, who already had started businesses before being accepted, said, “It was way more than I expected, and I had high expectations.”
According to Schroeder, Lavin wanted to do something that would “make a difference” for students and said, “I can write a check, but what does that mean at the end of the day?”

To figure out exactly what it would mean, Qualcomm Executive Director of the Entrepreneurial Management Center Sanford Ehrlich discussed what they wanted to have in the program with Lavin.

“The elements of what we wanted to provide was there, and Lavin implemented those elements,” Ehrlich said. “Mr. Lavin is a marketing genius, and it is a tremendous asset to have him with us.”

Along with being paired with a business leader, students accepted into the Lavin Program will also have the chance to speak with Lavin himself, and to hear experiences from the many business professionals.

“Halfway through, I thought to myself, ‘What advice would I give to a student not in the program?’” Tucker said. “The answer was to have a plan, and work hard to maximize opportunity as much as possible. This program is a life-changing opportunity.”

Applications for students interested in applying for the Lavin Entrepreneur Program opens tomorrow and closes on April 15. The criteria for entry into the program is based on a student’s portfolio, their communication skills, leadership competencies and capacity to deal with unstructured and uncertain situations.

Grade point average is also listed as a requirement, but Schroeder said that the program has accepted students with a 2.5 GPA. “If you look at the GPA of successful business owners, you’ll be surprised,” Schroeder said.

He also said that it is not just for business majors, and that they encourage students in non-business majors to apply.