Skip to main content

Entrepreneurial Spirit | Bismarck State College

to the top of the page
Home Page

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Kevin Cavanagh's popular entrepreneurship courses at Bismarck State College typically have 20-30 students in them both Spring and Fall semesters. He finds that he's often teaching to already-established entrepreneurs.

"It surprises me how many students coming in already have a business. Right now I can think of students who are DJs, have a t-shirt company, and a fireworks stand. We have a lot of hair stylists and crafters selling goods online, too," he says.

He sees a greater fearlessness in today's students. "Maybe it is the culture they've grown up in. [They're] exposed to so much more. Anything is possible and failure is not a big fear for them."

"As we get older, we get fearful. We aren't willing to risk it all. For them, the risk level isn't there. It's a prime time to do it, to take that risk."

It's a risk that's paying off for several current students and recent BSC graduates.
haircut.pngDetermined to Thrive
In five years Karissa (Hilton) Nichols ('17) will expand her one-woman hair studio into a larger salon. She's absolutely emphatic. "I will do this. It will happen."

No doubt. Nichols left school at 16 to work full time and support herself. She finished her GED at 17 and made her way to North Dakota ("for love" she laughs). She became a licensed cosmetologist at 21. After working in larger salons for a few years, she opened her hair studio, Funtastic Luxe Salon, in Mandan in 2016.

She enrolled at BSC about the same time because she wanted to ensure she had the skills to achieve her dream. She focused on entrepreneurship and business, and graduated this spring with the knowledge she needs to bring her plan to life.

"In our entrepreneur class, Kevin [Cavanagh] kept asking, 'how do you make your business stand out?'" she says. "Now I know everything I do over the next five years will focus on building my plan and standing out," she says.

Her classes showed her the support out there for entrepreneurs too. "As a sole proprietor and a woman, a lot more resources are available to me."

Resources that include BSC's professors. "Kevin says we can always come back and ask him for help."
Fireworks.pngA Flare for Business
While Alex Braun is committed to learning the family business (Braun Distributing in Dickinson) and working his way up there, he wants to flex his own business muscles, too.

So two years ago, at age 19, he established Fireworks by Braun.

"I did it out of my own pocket, and it's gotten bigger and bigger."

While his dad has given him a few tips, Braun does the work. "I work with a wholesaler down south and import fireworks from China. I was the first in North Dakota to offer the ASW brand."

He handles the permitting, sales, set up, marketing and inspections at his fireworks stand. "I do it all alone. In the summer I work 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the family business and then from 6-10 p.m. at the fireworks stand."

Braun doubled his sales last summer, and hopes to see them double again this summer. He's expanding sales to New Year's this year, too. He advises budding entrepreneurs to do plenty of research, and listen to those who know more than you.

"You see businesses that don't do the research fail. Take some caution, look at the numbers and figure out what you can actually do. Find someone with experience and get tips from them. I wouldn't be here without my dad, grandpa and Kevin [Cavanagh]. Take advice."
Photographer.pngCapturing the Moment
When Ethan Arlien ('12) graduated from BSC's Graphic Design & Communications program, he talked to a local advertising agency owner about available work, floating a salary he thought fair. It didn't' fly.

"I had no idea how little you make in the real world."

That knowledge partly inspired his decision to go back to school. He headed to the University of North Dakota to study marketing and graphic design, switching midstream to a major in entrepreneurship.

"I never wanted a boss," Arlien says. "I always planned to have an entrepreneurial life in Bismarck. It's less mainstream and a place where you can introduce new ideas. It's a good place for this."

At Photo Studio by Arlien Design - a light filled photography studio just down the hill from BSC - Arlien shoots weddings, senior and family photos. He also provides a full-service design option for bridal couples in which the invitation, settings and program accompany the photography.

While Arlien is the only full time employee at Arlien Design, he has plans to expand. To keep up with his current workload, he has pulled in an array of part-timers he knows he can work with because he spent a couple years with them at the BSC student news magazine, The Mystician.

"[Former Mystician editor] Alyssa Meier was the first to save me in a pinch. Basically, I took the Mystician staff and made a business with a goal to make some money."

Arlien is seeing the studio activity ramp up, and is almost completely booked for weddings this summer. " I started super small and didn't take out loans. I just worked, saved, bought equipment, repeat. It's going so well that I'm sticking with that plan for now."
Boutique.pngDiversification Drives Success
Exposure Boutique and Photography (home of the Burleigh Beard Company) in downtown Bismarck smells like cedar and leather - it's small and eclectically appointed with displays of the popular line of beard oils near men's flannel shirts and denim goods. A gold painted bicycle overlooks a display of women's blouses, plus-size dresses and Frye leather boots. Jewelry sourced from artists in Minnesota is displayed alongside chunky knit beanies.

"Most boutique owners go to market in larger cities, but I've been going to the Unglued Show in Fargo and finding jewelry makers and other products that are made closer to home," says owner and BSC graduate Ryanne Marie.

The Burleigh Beard Oil in the store is her invention - a product she launched in order to have lower price-point items for walk-in traffic. It ended up being the biggest part of the business.

"It's evolved into its own thing and it's what we're most popular for. More sales happen local than online, but we do sell all over the U.S."

Marie graduated from Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., with a degree in photography, and then enrolled at BSC to study business planning to open a photo studio.

While developing her business plan in Kevin Cavanagh's entrepreneurship class she discovered that opening a photo studio would "drive me insane."

"It would have been a constant battle to attract the clientele that would allow me to be profitable, so I changed my game plan."
Exposure is one of several downtown boutiques run by women. Rather than compete, the business owners have made a conscientious effort to work collaboratively. They plan sales at the same time, point customers toward other stores and pool their marketing efforts. "We're focused on creating more community and less competition."

BSC's professors have been part of Marie's network of support. "I like that the business professors at BSC are business owners too. They've been more than happy to help me. They're great resources."