Julia Bennet, a senior human development student from Lakewood, Ohio, founded Black Cat Cleaners after deciding at the last second to take a course titled Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Mindset. She took a leap and landed in the world of business for the first time.
Her first customer was an eye-opener. “I realized that not everyone’s room is set up the exact same way,” Julia says with a chuckle. “I showed up to the dorm room with a mop, and the entire room was covered in carpet.”
Having completed all General Education requirements, Julia was expecting her last year at Eckerd to be smooth sailing. She’s ready to graduate and go into gerontology—working with older people and the emotional turmoil they, along with their loved ones, go through toward the end of their lives.
But a decision she made a few days before the fall semester started would change her course for the better. She dropped a class and picked up Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Mindset, taught by Associate Professor of Management Jennifer Miner Knippen, Ph.D. The course encourages students to utilize fundamental entrepreneurial skills beyond the classroom setting to build their own businesses.
Even though Julia had always had her eyes on the course, “I never thought I would take this class,” she explains. “I knew it existed, but I didn’t really know what I would do with it.” With the realization that this was her last year at Eckerd and a required internship for human development students would keep her busy in spring, this fall was her last chance. So she took the risk and switched.
While the rest of her classmates chose food-related businesses, Julia hesitated. Cooking isn’t her strong suit, and she didn’t have the resources to run such a business efficiently. But what Julia did have the resources—and passion—for was cleaning.
“It started this summer. I did a really deep clean of my room using my dad’s shop vacuum,” Julia recalls. “It was so satisfying, and I thought it could be something I know I can do well.”
She came up with the name, inspired by her cat and favorite color, and now charges $13 for one cleaning, with the first clean being free.
A cleaning includes vacuuming or mopping the entire dorm, plus wiping, dusting or organizing if asked.
Even though Julia says she probably won’t start her own business after graduation, she’ll still take away valuable lessons from the course. “I’m learning a lot about how to grow and better spend my time. And I’m learning how to be productive. It’s very direct,” she says.
Knippen deems that a success. “Even if the student who enrolled goes through the process and finds out what they don’t want to do, it’s meaningful,” she says.
Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Mindset was developed as an introductory class for the entrepreneurship minor, but it routinely draws students from across disciplines looking to challenge themselves. Knippen says the course requires a substantial amount of reading, meeting with local entrepreneurs to learn about their experiences, and practical application. Past successes include the St. Petersburg hot dog pop-up Wiener Beach and several art-focused businesses.
It also helped, Julia says, that Knippen sets up “challenges” for the students to follow. Julia explains that her professor didn’t throw her into the middle of the ring with no armor, and she was given steps to follow.
“It’s not about the success of the business,” Julia adds. “It’s about what you learn.”
She faced many hurdles exploring the new field. One of the biggest, she points out, was promoting herself. “I think the hardest part is putting myself out there,” Julia says. “I’m putting myself out there to criticism and to questions I don’t know the answer to.” But through the setbacks, she comes back stronger. Her friends also help her through the more challenging times, encouraging her to start an Instagram account, @blackcatcleaners, and giving her tips on what to do.
As president of the Taylor Swift Society, Julia can take her new and improved skills and apply them to the club, helping her better lead the club and sharing her experiences with younger members.
Other students who find their businesses more profitable and pleasing may enroll in a one-credit course called Entrepreneurial Experience Lab, which meets with Knippen weekly and gives students license to continue operating their businesses on campus for an additional semester.
“The students learn so much more than marketing and budgeting,” Knippen says. “They learn how to value their time. How to really assign a value to what they want to provide, so that they don’t burn themselves out by not paying themselves. It teaches them to think about the different aspects of running a business—to think entrepreneurially.”