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Panel Talks Startup Funding with MSLCE Finance Class

By Jenna Myers

Cory Sandrock’s finance class experienced a real-world example of the power of networking when Sandrock invited three of his former colleagues from the business world and the theatre world to speak to the class about finding capital to support a new business.

Panel members included John Stoops, founder and executive director of Three Oaks Theatre Festival, David Neilson, a managing director at Talmer Bank and Trust, and a director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch who works with large non-profit organizations. The panelists conversed with MSLCE students and provided real-world advice on the students’ business plans and ideas.

These plans comprise the final project for the finance class and also give students a chance to think through some of their real ideas for ventures after they graduate. Despite the fact that the panel included two bankers, the overwhelming advice was to forgo bank loans and to instead pursue creative ways to get free money. The panelists worked to dispel the myth that entrepreneurs who want money should head to the bank. Stoops, an entrepreneur himself, said, “Loans just terrify me.” He advised students that the best source of funds for non-profits is their future customers, whoever those might be. One example was a new theatre that might consider pre-selling corporate entertainment packages to get funds upfront. “Now you don’t have a loan, but you’ve actually validated your concept [by having customers]”, he said.

Another panelist added, “Trade your services for what you need that might not necessarily be money. . . What do I have that I can offer? What am I trying to build? Is there a way to partner with some other organization?” For example, an MSLCE student who is interested in starting a company that offers branding and media production services might begin by partnering with an amateur photographer or videographer to share idle equipment rather than purchasing her own upfront. The panelists’ advice was candid and direct, speaking to their years of experiences observing many unsuccessful new ventures. The take-home message? “Passion is incredibly important, but follow where the dollars are.”