Professor Lisa Banks has worked with businesses of all sizes during her career in accounting. She started out on the financial staff at General Motors for 15 years. Then, transitioned to a CPA role at a small accounting firm where she helped many entrepreneurs get their start.
Banks found the flexibility of self-employment to be a good professional fit while her children were young. She later accepted a full-time faculty position at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan. She has been teaching for 27 years and using the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program for the last eight years.
The Entrepreneurship Program at Mott Community College was very traditional, with a textbook approach to starting a company. Because students who completed the program received a certificate rather than a degree, there was little incentive for students to complete the program in addition to their business courses.
In Banks’ first role at the college, she was the Coordinator of the Accounting Program. However, her personal experience with entrepreneurship and small businesses made her the ideal choice to re-envision the college’s approach to entrepreneurship. After the department chair connected her with the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program, Banks attended the training in Kansas. Next, she incorporated the model into the college’s Entrepreneurship Program as its introductory course.
Under Banks’ leadership, the nine-month certificate program became a hands-on experience where students developed ideas for their own businesses. Two years ago, the college created an associate’s degree program in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management—still with a very individualized approach.
“When students are taking a marketing or finance course, they’re working on their own plans,” Banks said. “By the end, they’re creating their business plans.”
As the final step in the Entrepreneurship Program, students complete a co-op class during which they launch their businesses. They lay out their plans, Banks approves them, and they check in along the way for mentoring and guidance.
Banks offers two Ice House classes per semester. She estimates that she has taught 800 students using the Ice House model. She said they always come away with information they will use in their lives—even if they discover that they’re not a good fit for a career as an entrepreneur. “It’s really about changing your habits to change your life,” she said. “People realize they don’t have to ride a conveyor belt through life. They can actually make some choices.”
The Mott Community College campus has a workforce development site where Banks has been working for the past two years, interviewing successful local entrepreneurs about real-world topics—for example, about adapting during the pandemic. Banks then shares both their challenges and their triumphs with her students so they can see role models in their own hometown.
One boutique owner Banks interviewed recently said she had her best year of business ever in 2020 by pivoting to selling her clothing on Facebook. She had moved to a new shop just before the pandemic hit and needed to sell her inventory so she could free up funds to buy the next season’s line. The online sales proved to be so successful that the entrepreneur earned a six-figure income for the first time.
Banks also teaches the Ice House course via video at a local prison, which has its own set of challenges and rewards. “That is one of the best populations for this curriculum,” Banks said. “The reflections from that prison class would have you in tears. They call it life-changing.”
When she’s out and about in the Flint community, Banks is always delighted when she runs into students who are implementing their ideas. “There’s nothing like seeing them launch their businesses,” she said. “The end result has been life-changing for me.”