COBE Students Breathe Fire in Trans-Atlantic Exercise

Wielding new-found power, MBA students in Radford University's College of Business and Economics (COBE) were cast as venture capitalists Friday and were courted by aspiring international entrepreneurs.

The exercise, during which students from France's Blaise Pascal University pitched business proposals to their RU counterparts, was international on both sides of the Atlantic. The RU class included MBA students from Norway, Zimbabwe, Croatia and the United States, while the French class featured an American student from Denver, Colo., as well as French, English, Dutch, Chinese and Senegalese students.

Modeled after "Dragon’s Den," a popular BBC show in which entrepreneurs pitch business plans to real venture capitalists, the exercise pitted RU students as dragons against the entrepreneurs in a post-graduate logistics class at the 14,000-student public university in south-central France.

"Our class is about making business decisions based on financial, behavioral and managerial criteria," said Mike Chatham, associate professor of marketing at COBE. "With this exercise, we introduce cultural and entrepreneurial dimensions as well."

Chatham's 15-member class, Managerial Accounting: Decision Making and Control, entertained and, in some cases, enthusiastically invested in the proposals pitched by the 22-member class from Blaise Pascal. A spirited bidding war broke out among four RU dragons for a stake in a company that would produce an athletic headband with a built-in personal listening and GPS device for sale in the United States. The RU dragons looked warily, however, on two other projects: a personalized organic beauty and hair-care system and a magnetic suspension display marketing distribution company in France.

Andrew Bibbins. Tyler Brown, Karoline Stien

Andrew Bibbins, Tyler Brown and Karoline Stien negotiate with their counterparts at Blaise Pascal University.

"There was a barrier today because language and technology made it challenging to understand each other, but we all share a similarity in that we are out to make a profit," said Andrew Bibbins, a first-year MBA student from Blacksburg.

The dialogue was polite, but the questions were pointed. Among the issues raised by the RU dragons were patent and trademark infringement, liability, shipping contingencies and excessive salaries for the entrepreneurs.

"Americans seem more aggressive," said Bibbins, who has international experience with the U.S. Army. "Our litigious society also makes us more skeptical, too, I guess."

For Tyler Brown, a first-year MBA student from Lynchburg, the exercise was a valuable introduction to international business. "The chance to reach out and talk business with students from other countries makes me more comfortable and excited about the international business opportunities," he said.

Karoline Stien is a first-year MBA student from Kristiansand, Norway, with an unusual perspective on the exercise, having studied as an exchange student in England before coming to RU.

"I can empathize with the entrepreneurs who are presenting in their second or third languages," she said. "I could feel their pain as they tried to understand the questions and then respond."

Next semester, the roles will be reversed. RU undergraduate students will prepare proposals for presentation to dragons from Pascal. The international business education exchange, now in its fourth year, was directed by RU's Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning.  The video and audio link-up included promotional videos and Power Point presentations produced by the French students as well as the lively back-and-forth bargaining.

Dec 11, 2012
Don Bowman
(540) 831-7523