Swimming with the Sharks

By Frank Radosevich II
May 6, 2013

Bradley’s entrepreneurs now have a better idea of what it’s like to swim with the sharks — without ever getting their feet wet.

Dave Alwan, owner of Echo Valley Meats in Bartonville, Ill., spoke to two classes on entrepreneurial creativity when building and growing a business. Alwan, who comes from a long line of butchers, was a recent contestant on the ABC television series “Shark Tank.” The show sees entrepreneurs inking deals with investors who offer their own money in exchange for a share of the business.

Alwan also is receiving help from four Bradley seniors. Business students Adam Ehrnthaller, Josh Schreiner, Drew Lensmeyer and Kaitlyn Perry are working as consultants with Echo Valley to identify and analyze the business’ competitors and to assist with social media marketing.

“We’re focusing on what his competitors are doing, what’s working and what’s not working in the meat distribution market,” said Schreiner, a business management and administration major from Woodstock, Ill.

Their work is part of the Foster College of Business’ Senior Consulting Project, a semester-long assignment required of all University business majors. The capstone project pairs a student team with local firms or nonprofits, where they serve as consultants. Through the project, students gain practical experience, leadership skills and a better understanding of the world of business.

“The capstone projects combine topics and theory from all disciplines of business,” said Dr. Brian Nagy, assistant professor of business management. “It’s treated much like a mini-internship. Whether they are developing marketing plans or analyzing the competition, students graduate with the experience of working directly with a management team or a local business owner.”

Ehrnthaller said the project with Alwan has taught the group to think big when it comes to business.

“You really need to take a step back and look at the big picture,” he said. “I’ve never done any consulting work, so this has been a great learning process for me.”

During his talk on campus, Alwan answered questions from students on everything from lessons learned the hard way, his future business plans, what working with family was like and how he overcame a fear of public speaking. His visit was co-hosted by the Foster College of Business and Bradley's new Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

"Dave Alwan is a passionate and exceptionally talented entrepreneur, sensing opportunities and, step by step, creating value for customers", said Dr. Gerry Hills, who heads the Turner School.

Alwan described for students the steps he took to establish and develop his business after working at his family’s butcher shop. He also discussed the intense process of auditioning for “Shark Tank,” where he vied with thousands of other contestants to be one of 160 entrepreneurs who pitched their idea.

Although he walked away from the show without a deal, Alwan said the national exposure and networking opportunities afforded by the show were, in many ways, more valuable. His website saw traffic skyrocket and online orders thrive.

“It was pretty intense,” he told the students about his appearance. “Even though I didn’t get the deal in the public’s eye, I’ve really gotten the best deal.”