Frank Spitznogle, FCB Entrepreneur in Residence, his latest Start Up

Posted: Thursday, February 5th 2015 at 6:18 AM

Frank Spitznogle holds a PhD in physics and an MBA, and in Fall 2013, he became an Entrepreneur in Residence in The W. A. Franke College of Business’ Business Division, a position funded by The Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation. He was brought in with the focus of creating a closer connection between the appropriate business and engineering activities at NAU. He currently teaches the two sections of MGT 435 (New Venture/Business Plan) and the MBA Course, MGT 643. Both are project-based courses. Eleven projects are running in parallel with about 60 students, including 15 MBAs.

“The business plan course takes students from BizBlock to today’s real world financing challenges, something that is multi-city and multi-state, an expansion of a present company, or creation of a brand-new company. We limit MGT 435 to 30 students, with 5-6 teams on average,” he said.

For the MBA course, he teaches students how to be consultants in a real business environment. The students are aligned with a business located [somewhere – doesn’t have to be in Flagstaff] or a new opportunity and they become a very active consultant to that business.

Relative to the MGT 435 Business Plan course, “Students often don’t [understand] how to start a company. They can do the arithmetic and write a business plan, but often don’t have adequate experience in how to manage people and how to learn in teams. The engineering people, likewise, don’t have a great deal of experience in how to build a business plan and sell it to an investor. So we’re working hard together, and it really is an incredibly cooperative effort between the business division and engineering to make that happen,” said Spitznogle.

What he brings to the classroom

“I bring together a lot of the opportunities by working with engineering and others around NAU. The students also bring some of the projects. The better projects tend to be the ones that involve real companies. Included on that list are local companies, for example, the Lumberyard, Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (NACET), Grand Canyon Spice Company, and Mother Road Brewery.

“The things we’re trying to teach the students are many, but probably the most important one is that when you are asked to put together a business plan, it may not be one you want to go to market with once you have it done. In fact, in my experience in teaching (for 10 years prior to FCB) at the MBA level, maybe 1 business plan out of 3 or 4 is viable.

“You do a business plan and it may not look right. The first thing you do is try to see what needs to be changed to make it right but then the next exercise is, should it be done at all? And if not, how do you explain it? So we really try to work with the teams to address if this is really something that should be done. But it takes them 3-4 months to figure that out, because they’re forced to do a very, very thorough analysis,” he shared.

On being an Executive in Residence in the FCB Business Division

Says Spitznogle, as his eyes light up, “I wake up early in the morning, and I’m ready, not to go to work, but to go to school. It’s not a feeling of going to work,” he said.

“I don’t consider myself a professional teacher. I have a PhD and I’ve taught for a number of years, but I’ve run companies all of my life. I’ve been heavily involved with the startup of 21 companies. That’s what I have done in the daytime, and then at night, I’ve taught. That’s what I always wanted to do, teach entrepreneurship ... It’s what I’ve done for a long time before I came here and it has been fun.  It’s really fun now to not have to do both at the same time here at NAU.

“The support from the Dean and the area managers is a perfect balance. It’s just an easy place to try to teach well.

“What we’re doing on the technical side of entrepreneurship, of course, is changing all the time.  We have a long way to grow here. What I really want to get to is where some courses are common courses, to grow this to be multidisciplinary between engineering and business,” he said.

Why engineering? Spitznogle responds, “It’s an easy place to start, because engineers need to know how to do business plans and vice versa. We have an emerging program in construction engineering on how you build houses and that should be a thrust by September.”

On the students in his classes

“This is just a fabulous place to teach the students. I’ve spun two companies out of MIT; I’ve taught at CSU; I’ve taught at NCU; but NAU is just different. The students are different. They just are, for the most part, very, very motivated students. And they are very, very hard-working students.

“I try to be here onsite 35-40 hours a week. The students need lots of hand-holding as they learn these things. You can’t just lecture. It’s more difficult than that.  In class, we break for project work, and the students scatter across the building.  I wander the building and help them wherever they are,” he concludes.

In this moment

Spitznogle is currently writing several books based on his practical, real-world experience gained through his many startup adventures.

Categories: frank spitznogle executive in residence spring 2015 2015 faculty global spotlight