Carnegie Mellon University is well-known for preparing students to start their own companies but now the school is debuting a new track that teaches them the ins and outs of buying an established business.
Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition will be offered this fall through the entrepreneurship program at CMU’s Tepper School of Business, said David Mawhinney, executive director of the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship.
“We’re unique in the city,” Mawhinney said. “There are complimentary programs [at other universities] but no one I know teaches students how to acquire a business and how to run it.”
ETA stems from the retooling of Entrepreneurial Alternatives, a Tepper course taught by adjunct professor Chris Cynkar that examines the paths of entrepreneurship outside of high-growth, new-venture creation.
Three years ago, the course additionally looked at the options of franchising and acquiring an existing business.
“Chris and I thought there would be great demand for this,” Mawhinney said. “It turned out to be the most popular elective at the Tepper School.”
Mawhinney believes ETA was “a missing piece” of Tepper’s offerings.
“I call it the American dream option of entrepreneurship,” he said. “So many people who come here are interested in small business ownership. Many of our students who are working in finance want to buy companies.”
So Mawhinney and Cynkar decided to formalize a set of courses to help students prepare to be business buyers. ETA will be taught by Cynkar.
“It can be the focus of students’ two years at Tepper,” Cynkar said. “The purpose [of creating a track] is to give them a deep dive on a particular discipline that will become their career path.”
Students opting for the track will take ETA and ETA Workshop, also taught by Cynkar, plus Entrepreneurial Alternatives and other, regular curricular offerings at Tepper.
Cynkar, who has acquired and run several companies, became a franchise consultant for Minneapolis-based FranChoice three years ago, matching entrepreneurs with the franchise opportunities that best fit their goals.
Entrepreneurial Alternatives will be taught by two local entrepreneurs recruited by Cynkar and Mawhinney. They are Len Caric, CEO of Uncle Charley’s Sausage Co. and who was part of the investor group that acquired the company from its founder two years ago, and Ned Collins, a principal at Madison River Partners LLC.
“They have the perfect skill sets to be able to teach the alternatives course,” Cynkar said.
As Tepper students, Collins and a classmate raised the Pittsburgh region’s first search fund, assembling a pool of capital from local investors in 2007 to purchase Columbia Northwest Inc., a manufacturer of lightweight travel trailers, from its founders. Collins led Columbia Northwest until 2015 and then served as interim CEO at PittMoss LLC.
“The search fund is one model where MBAs can acquire relatively smaller companies that are usually family owned but without transition plans,” Mawhinney said. “But there are other [such] funds and we want all of those [options] available to our students.”
Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition is open to all students on campus.
ASK THE EXPERTS
Entrepreneurs teaching entrepreneurship at CMU
Experience: Adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University; franchise consultant, FranChoice; bought and sold three companies: TriPoint Healthcare, Cool Pair Plus and Shenango Valley Quikprint
Experience: President and CEO, Uncle Charley’s Sausage Co.; previously vice president, Longboat International; director of acquisitions, AmeriGas; president and CEO, Penn Brewery; president and CEO, McKnight Cylinder
Experience: Principal, Madison River Partners LLC; Interim CEO, PittMoss LLC; CEO, Columbia Northwest Inc.; co-founder, Reticle Partners LLC