Free Business Course at Highlands Promotes Entrepreneurship 

student working with a computer

Photo credit: Margaret McKinney/Highlands University

October 12, 2021

After taking the free course, Launching Your Own Business, at Highlands University last summer, 74-year-old student Jewll Powdrell is on course to finish the degree he started in 1966 and to launch his own accounting business.  

Launching Your Own Business was a four-week class offered to students and community members at no cost. The Regional Development Center, or RDC, which supports economic development in Northern New Mexico, awarded a grant of $20,000 to Highlands to run the course.  

According to Veena Parboteeah, dean of the School of Business, Media Arts, and Technology, the course filled so quickly that they added 10 additional spots and started a waiting list.  

“Right now, with COVID, many individuals are rethinking what they’re doing,” Parboteeah said. “There’s a lot of focus on entrepreneurship. The 20-year-old students don’t want to work for the big corporations—they want to do their own thing.”  

As Powdrell demonstrates, students of all ages are rethinking their career paths. Powdrell said he has 45 years of experience as a salesman for pharmaceutical companies, IBM, Nextel, and Motorola. With the cannabis industry opening up in New Mexico in 2022, Powdrell said he wants to be on the other side of the desk. He plans to offer accounting services to cannabis growers and dispensaries.  

“It will be strategically different from what typical accounting services offer in the sense that there are a lot of unique regulations and stipulations that have been set by the state of New Mexico and the federal government, as far as reporting to the IRS,” said Powdrell. “The business plans for this venture are primarily based on understanding the industry and being able to be on the cutting edge when this thing fully rolls out in April of next year. Professor Anderson and Professor Sanchez gave me deeper insight about what would be required to make sure I was capable of providing the services.”  

Powdrell developed his business plan in the free Launch Your Own Business course, which was co-taught by Heath Anderson and Rodney Sanchez, both of whom teach for the Highlands School of Business. According to Parboteeah, the professors bring their own experiences with entrepreneurship into the classroom.  

“Both of these faculty members were practitioners themselves before they came into academia, so they both have experience with starting their own businesses and being successful in them.” said Parboteeah. 

Sanchez said he taught classes focused on research and trends in entrepreneurship. He and his students looked at case studies from the space industry as well as smaller ventures like coffee shops.  

“We dissected the commonalities of all those things and used those to help the participants in the class form their own strategies and thought about how they were going to approach the market with their product or business,” said Sanchez. “And the second part was doing due diligence around the participants’ ideas—more times than not you find that an idea has already been tried and is succeeding, or it’s been tried and failed.”  

According to Sanchez, in the academic setting there is no failure in entrepreneurship because every failure leads to a learning opportunity.  

After students conducted research and examined case studies, Anderson said he helped them draft business plans.  

“My sessions were really about the nuts and bolts rolling up your sleeves and how do you actually launch a startup business, and that starts with a good plan,” said Anderson. “We talked about how to strategically plan for the startup and scale the business. Part of our mission at Highlands is to work in collaboration with the community, and this course was all about working with local folks and helping them develop an understanding of entrepreneurship that can be applied right here in Northern New Mexico.”  

The class was a mix of Highlands students and community members, and Anderson said the class was beneficial to almost everyone.  

“At some point in your life, you’re probably going to be involved in business, so developing an understanding and an appreciation for business—and specifically entrepreneurship, is critical for all of our students at Highlands, as well as our alumni, and members of the community,” said Anderson. “Everybody partakes in a business endeavor of some sort at some point in their life, whether it’s managing your own checkbook, or whether it’s actually starting a business from scratch.”   

According to Anderson, many students began taking steps to launch their own businesses following the course. Others plan to enroll in more business courses or participate in the new Cowboy Up! competition that awards seed money to competitors with the best business plans.  

Powdrell placed fourth in the inaugural Cowboy Up! competition this spring and said he plans to enroll in Highlands University’s new industrial hemp certificate program. As an Albuquerque native, Powdrell looked into a similar program at the University of New Mexico, but he said the lower cost of Highlands’ certificate program is attractive.  

“Regardless of how one feels about cannabis, it’s an industry that I think a lot of students who are graduating from Highlands can really take advantage of,” said Powdrell.  

Whether students pursue entrepreneurship in the hemp industry or elsewhere, Sanchez said entrepreneurship is popular because it’s so accessible.  

“That’s really what a lot of people are thinking–’why don’t I just give it a try? Maybe I don’t have to quit my permanent job,’” said Sanchez. “The barriers to entry are lower because of all the digital resources we have available to us.”  

Parboteeah said they hope to offer Launching Your Own Business course in the future because it’s clear that there is a demand for it.  

“The course fits into our strategic plan because innovation and entrepreneurship are a big part of what we’re trying to achieve. We are very thankful to Mr. Val Alonzo from RDC to make it possible for the department to offer this free course.” said Parboteeah. “It is hopefully one of many we will offer. We are looking at partnership opportunities to better help the community, too.”