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Beaver Brew Cafe: so much more than meets the eye

Tucked into the Beaver Ridge Plaza, the Beaver Brew Café appears to be a hip, new coffee shop catering to a mocha-loving college crowd. Patrons can be found reading, wired in, or immersed in conversation. However in addition to ambiance, tasty brews and to-die-for caramel rolls, Beaver Brew provides much more: it is a real-world learning lab.

In 2010, Clint Severson and Connie Ahart donated $1 million to establish the MSU College of Business’ Severson Entrepreneurship Academy. Severson, a 1973 alumnus, is chairman of the board, chief executive officer and president of Abaxis, a medical devices company based in northern California. He is also the 2007 Forbes Entrepreneur of the Year.

Through SEA and the Entrepreneurship Club, students created the coffee shop concept to learn all the different parts of planning, opening and operating a business.

"This has truly been a 'learning lab' for students to gain first-hand experience starting a business. Through the SEA’s Entrepreneurship Club, and under Chuck Barney’s direction, they have planned and implemented everything it takes to make Beaver Brew Café a reality - from market research, to floor plan, to finance issues, to HR, to sourcing, to customer service, and more," said JoAnn Linrud, College of Business dean. "The students have been avidly involved in every step; this project became exactly what we hoped, students applying their academics to a practical situation."

After an intense six months of market research, planning and building, the BBC opened mid-August.

"We opened with a few core students who really made this happen," said Barney, SEA director. "We learned how to make coffee, maintain an inventory, train and schedule for the first six weeks. But as they get more experience, the students begin to learn about other facets of the business like payroll, tax deposits, paying bills with computer software and change orders."

Ultimately the Entrepreneurial Club will act as a board of directors making decisions on matters such as capital expenditures and marketing. It will also sponsor a speaker series featuring professionals willing to share their expertise.

For Jordan Lakoduk, club president and BBC assistant manager, the experience taught him more than classic textbook stuff.

"I've learned a lot about business that I didn’t know before: hiring people, doing payroll, managing and training employees and what to do when we run out of product or when employees don’t show up," Lakoduk said. "The toughest challenge was not knowing what we don’t know. It’s been intense, but fun."

The Beaver Brew Café is located at 1100 North Broadway and beginning mid-September will expand its hours from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Saturday.