“I think if we ever do our students a disservice,” says Lacy School of Business (LSB) Dean Stephen Standifird, “it’s when we underestimate what they’re capable of.”

That value has built the foundation for LSB’s curriculum full of hands-on learning. The School’s focus on experiential opportunities sets it apart, and Standifird says faculty constantly adapt courses to add the complexity they know their students can handle.

But education also needs to shift with the realities of an ever-changing business world. In designing the building that gives a new home to the School this fall, LSB leaders wanted to create a space that inspired more meaningful connections with the people who can speak to those changes.

Standifird describes the building as “a living room for the business community.” LSB encourages Indianapolis professionals to visit and use the space, providing students more chances to immerse themselves in organic ways. Butler holds a unique spot in the city—right between Carmel and downtown Indianapolis—so Standifird says it’s a natural stop for business traffic.

“Collaborative collisions” between students, faculty, and professionals in the building’s creative spaces will enhance LSB’s already-robust program of learning outside the classroom. By graduation, Butler business students have completed two internships, received regular one-on-one career mentoring from people in the field, and had the chance to join several student-run firms that deal with real clients. And, perhaps the most unique distinction of LSB’s program, every student has launched and operated a real business.

During the Real Business Experience (RBE), a program most often taken during sophomore year, students work in teams to think up and prototype actual products or services. Throughout the semester, they learn about the different aspects of building a real business, from marketing, to accounting, to sales. Standifird says the program aims to help students understand the importance of each element, putting them in situations where they really feel the weight of running a business instead of just reading theories in a textbook.

“It’s not something that you can find at other universities,” says RBE Coordinator Jeff Durham, “especially with as many parts and pieces as we have.”

After students pay back loans from the University used to stock initial inventory, the course normally concludes with liquidating and closing the businesses. But Richie Berner, a 2019 Entrepreneurship & Innovation graduate, had a good feeling about his team’s Zotec-award winning project. He didn’t want it to end.

After Berner pitched his business idea during the first week of his RBE class, his team went on to sell more than 600 knit, branded scarves. Berner saw lasting potential in the product, so he bought out his partners’ shares and has continued to own and operate North Pole Scarves ever since. He says the experience gave him the confidence and know-how to try launching his own restaurant, which is already in the works just a few months after graduation.

Berner is still an outlier for continuing his RBE business after the class, but Standifird hopes the new building might help change that. The facility provides more workspace dedicated to RBE teams, housed at the northwest corner alongside a brand new showroom where students can display their products and services.

Two doors down, a recent partnership gives the Central Indiana Small Business Development Center a home at Butler. For students interested in taking their RBE business further, the resource they need could be just down the hall.