May 16, 2022
Pascha Apter has been a business owner since 2008, but her entrepreneurial roots date back to her childhood and the bait and taxidermy shop her parents owned in Cloquet, MN.
“I worked in their shop as a young kid, counting the bait, nightcrawlers, leeches and getting them all packaged up,” she shared. “Even though it wasn’t glamorous, it didn’t shy me away from wanting to be a business owner myself.”
Apter recalls writing commercials for brands like Twix and Bubble Tape as a kid, efforts that fueled an ambitious, entrepreneurial dream: owning her own advertising agency by the time she was 40. “It was just an innate belief that that’s what I was destined to do.”
She attended St. Cloud State, earned her degree in advertising and began working at an agency in Duluth before transitioning to JPG Group in 2005. Located in Virginia, MN, Apter described it as a small-project shop that was poised for growth in Duluth. In 2012, she bought out her partner and Giant Voices, a full-service marketing agency, was born.
But her dream didn’t stop there.
“The best of the best”
“One of my personal passions is helping start-up entrepreneurs shape their business venture idea and bring it into the marketplace,” Apter said. “I’ve been a start-up mentor, helping a founder try to get off the ground and shape their idea so it’s viable, a pitch coach and an angel investor, writing financial support checks to help new businesses get going.”
And now, this passion and experience have transformed into an exciting new endeavor: a semester-long course titled Entrepreneurship, the first of its kind to be offered within the Stender School of Business and Technology. According to Apter, she’s taken what she’s learned, “the best of the best,” and integrated it into this 100% application-based class.
“Entrepreneurs like to do things on their own,” she laughed. “So it was really nice having the freedom as a new instructor to write the curriculum and develop 16 weeks of content with no boundaries.”
The course began with a discussion about innovation and how to spot a “blue ocean opportunity.” Students also learned how to pay attention to trends and channel creativity to identify their own business to develop and eventually bring to market.
“Then we worked through all of the fundamentals that you’d need to think through including how to present the problem and the solution. They created and named their brand, logo and positioning statement and really learned how to differentiate themselves from the competition.”
The class of 14, primarily junior and senior business majors, was also encouraged to consider strategic partnerships and who they want in their network to help. Entrepreneurship is not a “long-ranger” kind of experience, Apter said. After all, “when people think of entrepreneurs, they might think of Elon Musk but they don’t think about his 700,000 employees.”
Beyond investors, accountants, bankers and vendors, Apter emphasized that an entrepreneur must also think intentionally about other individuals — and pets! — in their support system that will keep them sane. She relied on her own network to coordinate guest speakers, including Bent Paddle Brewing Co.’s Laura Mullen and Duluth Pack’s Tom Sega to share their entrepreneurial journeys and success stories.
A mutual inspiration
Looking ahead, Apter shared how the semester will close out: a real-life pitch to real-world investors, including St. Scholastica faculty. “It’s a bit like Shark Tank,” Apter said. “We’ll have quite an audience and a lot of excitement and energy.”
Regardless of the outcome, Apter hopes her students will leave with an amazing head start, ready to become entrepreneurs with a deep knowledge of business and marketing. Eventually, she’d love to see the course opened up to other majors, as well.
“We have a number of clients who are audiologists, dentists, accountants, lawyers; they went to school for their profession, but at some point, decided they want to go out on their own. These folks have no idea what it takes to organize a business or build a brand. A class like this would present a big service to these pre-professional students who might decide to start their own business someday.”
The class has had a meaningful impact on Apter, too. “This is the first time I’ve taught at the college level and I am kind of blown away by how much the curriculum and students have been such a welcome source of inspiration.
“I’m inspired by the kind of people who aren’t afraid of being innovative. That’s who I like to spend my time with; that’s where I get my energy from.”
Meet the entrepreneurs
Bryceton Butkiewicz ’22, business management and marketing major
My venture idea is a grocery shopping app that works like a car GPS and gives you the best optimal route around the store. You enter your grocery list into the app by either typing it in or taking a picture of your handwritten note and having the app convert it into text. Once you have your shopping list into the Fast Lane app when you get to the grocery store of your choice, the app will automatically allow you to select that store. The app then arranges your grocery items in order and gives you directions around the store. The app will even say if the item is on the top, middle or bottom of the shelf.
Just like a car GPS, if you make a wrong turn or go rogue, Fast Lane will reroute you to the best next optimal route. There is also a hands-free option that would work by giving you directions through your headphones. Through this hands-free aspect you can also ask the app commands like iPhone users can do with Siri. For example, you can say “Hey Fast Lane, add ketchup to the list,” or “Hey Fast Lane what aisle is ketchup in?” Fast Lane will change the way people shop making it more efficient and enjoyable.
I came up with this idea from my own personal experience. After I moved off campus for my last two years of college I found myself facing a major problem; I had to start cooking on my own. This meant I had to go get my own groceries. I found myself running back and forth through the whole store trying to find the items I put on my list. I also had no idea what some of the items even were. For example, I had no idea that minced garlic came in a small jar. I would be looking for something and never find it. I knew that there must be an easier way and that’s when I came up with the idea of Fast Lane.
Favorite part of class
What I have enjoyed most about the Entrepreneurship class is taking an idea I had and making it come to life. Pascha Apter is an amazing professor and has helped me take an idea and really work through it and make it feel like it’s possible to bring this to the real market.
What comes next
I hope to either pursue my entrepreneurial idea Fast Lane or get a job in the marketing or management field here in Duluth, MN.
Olivia Niska ’23, organizational leadership major, marketing and business management minors
“Grateful Hearts,” a subscription box for elderly/care facility residents. I came up with this idea while brainstorming for a “blue ocean” opportunity — a product or service that currently does not exist in the market or differentiation of an existing product. While searching for an idea that could solve a problem that exists in consumers’ lives, what came to mind was creating a way for busy individuals to share their love and gratitude for the elderly people in their lives, especially when their busy schedules often prohibit them from visiting as often as they’d like to.
This subscription box includes items that bring joy into the lives of older people, such as knick-knacks, snacks, decor and customized products. Additionally, the slogan for Grateful Hearts is “From the heart, from miles apart.” Family members and loved ones who live far away often feel guilty for not being able to give their loved ones the attention that they deserve, and this is a way to combat their loneliness and feel connected.
The unique offerings of this business are customizable products in each monthly box, a donation feature where customers can purchase a subscription for an elderly individual in need of some love, and the ability to purchase just one box without the commitment of an entire subscription. These customized products may include photo gifts, monogrammed items, or simple customization of “sugar-free” or “peanut-free” food items. A key area for this business to succeed will be impeccable customer relationships. Our goal is to make this purchase seamless for the customers and make it incredibly easy for them to make quick customizations, access billing and account information, and add or cancel their subscriptions. Developing strong relationships will be vital for the success of Grateful Hearts as positive word-of-mouth will be generated and our customers will likely be long-lasting.
Favorite part of class
Pascha’s entrepreneurship class has been amazing this semester. I have enjoyed being free to explore areas that are relevant and interesting to me in the world of business. The real-life application of concepts makes things more understandable and will be much more beneficial to translate into our future careers. Pascha’s experience developing her company and the work that she does with her clients has been a guiding force in creating each of our ventures. I went from starting the class thinking, “Wow, we get to play Shark Tank this semester!” and ending thinking, “Wow, I’ve created a business!”
What comes next
Looking towards graduation next spring, I have a lot to consider as I choose which career path I want to pursue. I am currently exploring opportunities in business development and/or event coordination areas; however, I am open to all aspects of business. I hope to find a job that offers a great combination of all my interests and talents!