University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 225: Entrepreneurship and Outdoor Recreation at the University of Arkansas with Jason Ridge, Taryn Mead, and Matthew Myers

May 03, 2023  |  By Matt Waller

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This week on the podcast, Matt sits down with Jason Ridge, Taryn Mead, and Matthew Myers with the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Jason is the Chair of the Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship, and Venture Innovation (SEVI), Taryn is an Assistant Professor of Product Design, Innovation, and Management, and Matthew is the program manager for Outdoor Industries. Matt and Jason begin by discussing why the SEVI Department was developed, the various degree options, and the Micro Certificates available through the department. The conversation continues with Taryn detailing the Masters of Science in Product Innovation and its launch along with the product innovation practicum. The conversation concluded with Matthew walking through the advantages of the Masters of Science in Product Innovation as it applies to working professionals. 

Episode Transcript: 

Matthew Myers  0:00  
Entrepreneurial education, that doesn't just mean you want to go and start your own business. It means you're creative, you want to be innovative, you want to be disruptive. So I'd say you know, those kinds of characteristics are going to be ideal for our students.

Matt Waller  0:13  
Excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality. These are the values. The Sam M. Walton College of Business explores in education, business, and the lives of people we meet every day, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Walton College, and welcome to the Be Epic Podcast. I have with me today, Jason Ridge, who is Chair of the Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship, and Venture Innovation. He's also a Professor of Strategy here in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. I have Taryn Mead, who is a an Assistant Professor of Product Design, Innovation, and Management. And she has extensive experience in the outdoor industry. And we'll talk about that as well. And I also have Matthew Myers, who has been with the university, especially in recruitment and graduate recruitment and now he's the program manager for Outdoor Recreation, Products, and Services. So thank you all for joining me today.

Taryn Mead  1:19  
Thank you.

Matt Waller  1:21  
Jason, I want to start with you. You know, we started this new department, the Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Venture Innovation a couple of years ago. And it's it's an outgrowth of the Department of Management. And, you know, we did that because we wanted to emphasize entrepreneurship and strategy. And sometimes it's good to separate departments out so that you get that kind of a thing. Many years ago, back in 2011. We did that with the department of supply chain management, which used to be a part of the department of marketing. And it really made a big difference. In terms of the flexibility and strategic direction of the department. Of course, that department now was ranked number one in North America by Gartner. So sometimes having a little autonomy to focus gives you a lot of options. And I know that your department partners closely with our Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation on campus, but would you tell tell us just a little bit about the department and what kind of offerings you have?

Jason Ridge  2:34  
Sure, yes. So the Strategy Entrepreneurship and Venture Innovation Department, we refer to it as SEVI, S E V I just because that's all a lot of words strung together in the name, and we offer a an undergraduate degree in Entrepreneurship and and or Innovation that has four thematic tracks is what the way we focus on it. It's a very open and flexible type of program because we want to provide students with the most opportunity to focus on what they're most interested in, whether it's a specific business idea that they have, or a specific industry that we can help those students really focus on the type of thing that they're they're most interested in. So we have a lot built a lot of flexibility into our undergraduate degree. Our four thematic tracks are Corporate Innovation, which focuses on product management to some degree, which also will will speak to what Taryn and Matthew we're gonna speak about in a little bit. The Social Innovation track as well, if students are more interested in kind of maybe maybe not nonprofit, but at least creating and starting an enterprise that is focused on creating social good in the in creating some type of social good rather than just economic development or value. Then we also have a typical Entrepreneurship approach or New Venture Development type of theme. This is for students that just want to start a typical business. And then the last is Small Enterprise Management for those students that are interested in focusing on small business or maybe even a family run business rather than trying to get into a larger organization or corporate structure. And then, just really quickly, I'd say that we also have recently been approved to start offering three micro certificates, four technically with the outdoor products. But again, that's a Taryn and Matthew's domain. But we have an Entrepreneurship Micro Certificate that's focused specifically on its three courses, focused on students and or those that are not necessarily students yet, but in people that have business ideas and the goal of this certificate is for individuals that come in with an idea. And we literally walked them through the process. And by the end, hopefully they would be at a point where they could start the business if they so desired. Then we also have a Social Innovation Micro Certificate and an Organizational Innovation Micro Certificate. Each of these are focusing on either internal, from the organization perspective, internal innovation or social, again, is businesses creating some societal good.

Matt Waller  5:31  
Excellent. And I know the the minor that you all created, is open to any student on campus. Is that right?

Jason Ridge  5:42  
Yes, that's, that's a great point, I missed that the we have a minor for Walton College students. First is one option for those that are already in Walton. But we also have a unique one that is specifically tailored to reducing the amount of core programming in Walton College for students that are in other colleges in the university. So it allows for a lower cost of entry for the minor. In fact, we took the 18 hours that used to be prerequisites, and it's collapsed down into a three hour course, I believe it's only 18 hours total, to get the minor now rather than what what used to be much more than that.

Matt Waller  6:26  
I'm so glad your department did that because, you know, entrepreneurs come from all areas of the university that come from engineering, agriculture, philosophy, any any area. But to your point, the barrier to entry to our minors was substantial, because of the amount of prerequisites as you pointed out. And now, it's quite easy for students across campus that maybe they don't have much of a business background to take these classes. And hopefully, that will increase the probability of success of these companies that are starting in Northwest Arkansas as a result of students that are here. So that was a great innovation you all had in your own department. And it wasn't innovation, and it wasn't easy to to get through the system. But you all persevered and made it happen. So well done. Well, thank you. Yeah,

Jason Ridge  7:30  
It is a we are we're happy with the with the program, we feel that it can be really successful.

Matt Waller  7:30  
Taryn, I know you're very involved with the Masters of Science in Product Innovation of this new program. Would you speak to that a little bit?

Taryn Mead  7:46  
Sure. So I came in last fall to really help launch this program that is largely grant funded at the moment. There was generally though a broad demand before the grant came into the picture, there's been a broad demand for the development of product managers and product innovation in Northwest Arkansas, recognizing that we have this large retail entity in our midst that is creating a lot of product or driving the creation of a lot of product, both digital and physical product. So the MSPI, the Masters of Science and Product Innovation came about as a way to meet this demand for local employers. You know, local employers are saying we really need folks who understand product to to meet the needs of our organization. And so we saw a real opportunity here, Sarah Goforth. And in OEI, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She and Jon Johnson saw a real need to meet this request from employers. So in order to meet this demand that we're hearing from local employers, we're offering coursework and user research really looks at, which really looks at how to understand the relationship and engagement with users. We have Business Foundation for Entrepreneurs, which covers just a very wide array of basic business skills. For folks that might not come from a business background. We're also looking at product design and prototyping in the coursework, as well as product management. And one part of the program that I'm well two parts that I'm very excited about. One is the interdisciplinary, interdisciplinary nature of the electives that we're offering. So we have six credits of electives, and we're creating pathways across the university for participants in our program to be able to take courses from other departments to meet that elective requirement. Another thing that I'm very excited about is the product innovation practicum which will enable students to engage with sponsor organizations to help solve their business problems in a 250 our practicum project. So those are both components that I think one can deliver a really highly customized high touch experience with students to engage in their interests, and also really create a lot of value for the companies in our region.

Matt Waller  10:15  
Wonderful. Matthew, I know one innovation in the Masters of Science in Product Innovation is really making it accessible for working professionals. Would you mind talking a little about your role, as well as the importance of having working professionals in this program?

Matthew Myers  10:36  
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, working professionals for this program kind of came out of the demand that we found for it. So talking about customer discovery, we were getting calls from folks at Walmart and folks down in Fort Smith and the supply chain industry and kind of all over the place, but they are working professionals that were in the industry, that either were had the awareness of product management, or maybe they had their own product idea that they were hoping to sort of on the side develop and potentially start their own company with. And so that demand really drove us to make some changes to the program, because previously, we were thinking we would start with a full time program. And so what we've done is make the program a specific pathway for working professionals that will follow the format that our Executive MBA has had, that our Information Systems Professional Programs have, that our Masters of Supply Chain Program has, where it's a one Saturday a month, they'll come to class and have that face to face experience. And then the rest of the coursework, they'll complete over the week, virtually. And so it's a format that we've seen success with through these other programs for several years now. And so we know it works with our local business community. And so it's one that we wanted to adopt, just to make the program available to these folks, they're they're the ones that they're aware of what's going on with product and how that's changed so much. In the industry, Walmart is one of the biggest hirers of folks in the product space. And so it's it's really just something that, you know, is really, in demand. It's something that's new. And so it's something that even a lot of our undergraduate students may not be aware of yet. But but the working professionals are aware of it. So what that'll look like for them is basically a two year process, although take it part time, taking two classes a semester. So very digestible. One of the parts that we're excited about as well as we're going to utilize the collaborative space that we have up in Bentonville. And so it's very close to a lot of our working professionals, we are also working with them in the development of a new prototyping space that our students will have access to up there, if you know where Airship Coffee is, it's kind of grab your coffee and go behind that it's in the same warehouse building there. And so they'll have opportunities to very much hands on work in the prototyping phases of the program. And then also being connected to a lot of the funding sources for our students that are interested more in the entrepreneurial space of this as well. So we're really excited to see what our professional students come in the program and do. I think it's something that our GORP program that Phil's doing, has seen a lot of success with, almost all of his folks that have come through that program have been working professionals that are doing this on the side to develop a product. And so we anticipate that as well. Both, again, from the entrepreneurial side, as well as folks that are that are maybe in the Walmart universe that wants to transition or to grow within the product space there.

Matt Waller  13:45  
If, if someone's interested in this program, what would be the best way for them to find out more about the program?

Matthew Myers  13:55  
So our website, pretty easy to remember, All the courses are listed there. So you can get a really good idea of what you'll be studying. We also have a breakdown of the course layout and the schedule of when those face to face classes are. And then there's also a form on there if you want to get more personal and have a conversation with me put your information there, I'd be happy to reach out and chat. One of the things that's you know, exciting about a new program is that they're always small, because not as many people know about them. And so we anticipate, you know, anywhere from 10 to 15 folks in this original cohort, so it's going to be very intimate, personal. We're going to know all of our students very well you're going to know us you're going to know your faculty. We're going to have lots of opportunities for job placement for you know, individual mentoring and counseling throughout the program. And so it's gonna be it's gonna be a pretty cozy program in that regard. So yeah, I'd say definitely don't hesitate to reach out and chat with us if if you're at all interested.

Matt Waller  14:58  
Great. Great. Jason, getting back to the major in entrepreneurship, for example, or even the minor. What if a student is entrepreneurial? You know, they seem to be drawn to entrepreneurial activity and ideas. But what if a student is in that category, but they want to start their career with a bigger company? Is studying entrepreneurship beneficial for them?

Jason Ridge  15:27  
Absolutely. In fact, we talk to students frequently that, that have interest in or a creative mindset or creative decision making, that they're interested in that but, you know, aren't ready to take the leap into a into their own business. And I think that that's one of the misconceptions about entrepreneurship, particularly from an educational perspective is that while while entrepreneurship can be starting your own business, that's one of the reasons why we have alternative tracks as well is for students that want to learn design thinking or different creative problem solving and approaches to decision making, that really create those innovative thought processes within organizations, large corporations are always looking for, and would like students that have a different perspective, rather than, than the simple typical disciplinary perspective, and that that's what this does program provides. So it allows for a lot of opportunity in that space beyond just starting your own business. In fact, if you look at the data, most entrepreneurs on average entrepreneurs usually are in their 30s, or close to, and that's because they've begun in the corporate world, they've learned a skill they've learned a trade and then they from that they've had time to, you know, save some funds and be able to invest in their new business. And so that's we're focused on those types of students as well of allowing them through a corporate innovation, thematic track, or core, or the social innovation, or even the small enterprise perspective is, can help those students fit into that corporate world. And then if they want to, in the future branch out into creating their own business.

Matt Waller  17:17  
Matthew, for the Masters of Science in product innovation, would you characterize the ideal student?

Matthew Myers  17:25  
I'd say it's pretty broad. So you know, Jason talked about earlier, you know, how entrepreneur education, that doesn't just mean you want to go and start your own business, it means you're creative, you want to be innovative, you want to be disruptive. So I'd say, you know, those kinds of characteristics are going to be ideal for our students, they could come from any major. The technical skills, obviously are helpful if you're trying to develop products. So if you're computer science or engineering, but you could be, you know, an English major that has an idea or you want to get into the space, you're very likely a business student we'll have a lot of those. So it's not specific to any any major, I would say, some experience is certainly ideal for us, you know, if you're coming, especially into the part time program, we're looking at, you know, upper 20s 30s 40s are kind of the range there. But we also have students coming directly out of undergraduate, that are interested in the program, and for certain students, they can be successful as well. I would also say that, you know, product can be a lot of different things. It could be, you know, internal digital products at a large corporation. It could be a company that's creating product, it could be against starting your own business. And so it's pretty broad. But but it should be somebody who's interested in creating something new and enjoys working on interdisciplinary teams. And, again, is ready to to create and disrupt and be innovative.

Matt Waller  18:55  
Taryn, would you mind speaking a little bit, you know, we've been talking a little bit about this idea of outdoor recreation. And what does that have to do with all of this and and what are we trying to accomplish with that?

Taryn Mead  19:11  
In terms of the outdoor industry, Arkansas is now joining the ranks of a national movement of states that are creating offices of outdoor recreation, and really focusing on the economic impact that outdoor recreation and tourism has on their economy. So join states like Colorado and Oregon in the creation of these offices to really sort of create strategies around development of both services and products in the outdoor industry. So the program that we're creating product innovation has a large focus on outdoor industry as a as a product category that we really want to help develop here. And Matthew touched on the prototyping lab that we're building up in Bentonville, and part of the focus of that space will be on the cycling industry. We're going to focus on prototyping in metals in that space and how we can work with an entrepreneur and engineering residents there to support the cycling industry through the projects that we work on in our program. So it's an exciting time to look across the various opportunities in this region and really lean in to the assets that you have here in terms of natural resources.

Matt Waller  20:31  
On behalf of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, I want to thank everyone for spending time with us for another engaging conversation. You can subscribe by going to your favorite podcast service and searching Be Epic. B E E P I C

Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is the dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair and professor of supply chain management. He is also the host for the Be EPIC Podcast for Walton College.


Walton College's EPIC values -- Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collegiality -- are the heart of Dean Waller’s podcast. Since the beginning of the series, Waller has interviewed business professionals, industry experts, CEOs and Walton College students to bring listeners first-hand accounts directly from the entrepreneurial world.


Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow and coauthor of “The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain,” published by Pearson Education. He is the former co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Business Logistics. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia and Financial Times.


Waller received an M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University and a B.S.B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Missouri.

Walton College

Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become the state's premier college of business – as well as a nationally competitive business school. Learn more...

Be Epic Podcast

We're sitting down with innovators and business mavericks to discuss strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship. The Be EPIC Podcast is hosted by Matthew Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Learn more...

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