Wake Forest accounting students crunch numbers for tech start-ups
March 22, 2007
Wake Forest University students are helping entrepreneurs at start-up companies make the connection between good ideas and sound financial practices through a class taught in the university’s Calloway School of Business and Accountancy.
The course, “Accounting and Financial Management for Entrepreneurs,” is an elective within the Calloway School’s Master of Science in Accountancy program.
Teams of graduate accounting students enrolled in the course began consulting in January with six companies to provide financial analysis and to develop spreadsheet tools to make financial projections. Three of the companies are local biotechnology companies. The remaining three include a software company in California’s Silicon Valley, a theater production company started by Wake Forest students and a nanotechnology company based in Greensboro.
“Every one of these companies needs accounting and financial management help,” said Terry Baker, associate professor of accountancy, who teaches the course. “The problem these clients face is that they tend to be very good at a specialized technology, but they aren’t necessarily fluent in the numbers aspects of their business. They are brilliant at describing the product, but sometimes stumble when talking about revenue and cost projections.”
Baker began the course with two weeks of intensive classroom instruction on the special accounting and financial issues facing entrepreneurs. Guest speakers, such as Don McIver, a Wake Forest graduate and a partner at Ernst & Young in Greensboro, shared their expertise regarding how companies go from start-up to initial public offering (IPO).
“The goal of the course is to help students and the entrepreneurs they are helping identify what it takes to make a successful pitch for venture capital and what role an accountant plays in that pitch,” Baker said.
Valuation or knowing a company’s worth is key to seeking venture capital funding, Baker said. “That can be the difference between surviving and not surviving forthese businesses.”
Three of the local start-ups have initial funding from the Inception Micro Angel Fund (IMAF), a group of area investors who help entrepreneurs take the first steps toward establishing a viable business. By providing accounting and management consulting, the students are helping the entrepreneurs get ready to take the next step in growing their businesses.
The teams will present their final written reports at the end of March, but according to Timothy Janke, the executive fund director of IMAF, their work is already making a difference.
“The delivered financial analysis and spreadsheet tools are exceptional and are already being employed by the company,” Janke said about one team’s efforts.
The students get to apply what they have learned in accounting, but they also get to apply their core course work in the Calloway School in other areas such as marketing, management and organizational problems.
“The main value to the student is to see the entrepreneurial life as opposed to the Fortune 500 life,” Baker said. “They get a glimpse of what it really means to be an entrepreneur. It’s hard work.”
"I signed up for this course because I felt it was one that would incorporate my accounting and finance background in a real world application,” said Casey Watkins, a student from Winston-Salem who worked on the nanotechnology team. “The project culminated in creating a flexible financial model with a sensitivity analysis showing how the business valuation would change based on market conditions, market share, royalty agreements and discount rates.”
The course, taught for the first time in 2006, was developed with support from Wake Forest’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Liberal Arts and the PriceWaterhouseCoopers Foundation.