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|Articles - April 2010|
|Wednesday, March 24, 2010|
Sixteen Portland State University students sit in a classroom, taking notes as German professor Bill Fischer details the day’s assignment in German and professor Maggie Elliott retranslates in French. Fischer tells the students that during their presentations for the class’s annual Exposition and New Product Rollout there needs to be a “high point” in their speeches to capture audience attention.
Student Brett Condron questioned the idea of incorporating excitement into the presentations, saying speeches about sales and marketing strategy can’t help but be boring. “Have you ever seen a shareholder meeting?” Condron asks.
“But we’re a small, hungry firm,” Fischer responds.
This isn’t just any foreign language class. Fischer calls the class “SpeakEasy.” It’s a third-year German course conducted as a student-run business startup company. “This is far more difficult than putting verb charts on a board,” Fischer says.
Speaking in German and French, students are in charge of a small business that designs, manufactures and sells multilingual greeting cards. Their products include Valentine’s Day, Christmas, birthday and thank-you cards that are printed on paper made from recycled elephant dung. Their message is expressed in all 23 languages taught at PSU, plus Dutch, and the cards cost between $1.50 and $3.
Business is booming.
“We’ve already exceeded everything we thought was practical,” says Condron, who is the equivalent of the company’s chief financial officer.
The class sells the cards once a week from an on-campus booth. Sales during the spring academic quarter (about half completed) are at $600. “Since we have a real presence, more people have been finding out about us,” Condron says.
Students first sold cards to friends and family. “It was like being a new Avon sales representative,” Condron says.
Fischer began the class in 2001 when he incorporated business and occupational language into a third-year German course and decided to craft the class into a workplace environment. It took seven years to develop a product.
The first was small, portable vocabulary cards packed in plastic carrying cases, with early capital between $750 and $1,000 coming out of Fischer’s pocket. “Quality control was horrendous,” Fischer says.
The class switched to producing cards in 2009. A student suggested using a sustainable paper product, which Fischer says amounted to instant advertising. “There was an immediate return,” he says.
Sales increased by 600%. Production has doubled as marketing efforts increased in late February, and Condron hopes that in two years sales will increase to $10,000 per quarter.
There’s more at stake than gaining practical language skills. Foreign language programs are getting cut from university department offerings because of budget cuts and the perception that foreign languages are not useful.
Fischer hopes that part of the profit can help lessen the impact of institutional budget cuts. “We’re frightened that German [classes] won’t survive if we don’t adapt to the times,” Fischer says.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
The president of LaPorte & Associates lets us in on his day-to-day life.
Friday, October 31, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
Why are there so few transportation startups in Portland? The city’s leadership in bike, transit and pedestrian transportation has been well-documented. But that was then — when government and nonprofits paved the way for a new, less auto centric way of life.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:
The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace.
Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.
This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay.
Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.
New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”
That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!
Thursday, December 04, 2014
BY DEBRA RINGOLD | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
How important are institutional and/or program evaluations provided by third parties in selecting a college or university program?
Thursday, November 13, 2014
BY RYAN CARSON | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
How do we skill up our future technology workforce in a smart way to take advantage of these high-paying jobs? The answer shouldn’t focus only on helping people get a bachelor’s degree.
Thursday, December 04, 2014
BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR
Nothing says startup culture like a ping pong table in the office, lounge or lobby.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Seven tidbits about the president and CEO of AKT Group.
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