Just months out of the University of Richmond, Bill
Buppert glimpsed an opportunity to forgo the corporate
ladder and take a confectionary conveyer belt right to the
top. The Ruxton, Md., native learned in October 2001 that
Naron Mary Sue, the business that had brought together two
beloved Baltimore candy companies, had gone bankrupt and
was being auctioned — in six days.
The then 23-year-old didn't blink. Buppert readied a
business plan, put in the winning bid and took charge of
the floundering company. Today, he heads Ruxton Chocolate,
LLC, the parent company he founded that now comprises
Naron, Mary Sue and Glauber's Fine Chocolates. Talk about a
kid in a candy store.
Buppert told his unique, inspirational story last week
to more than 200 Johns Hopkins undergraduates who one day
hope to follow in his enterprising footsteps. He was a
featured speaker for the increasingly popular intersession
course Invitation to Entrepreneurship.
The weeklong 1-credit course informs students
considering starting their own business — or taking
employment in a start-up company — through a
collection of talks by successful entrepreneurs and
Begun in 1998, the course attracts more students each
year. In seven years, enrollment has gone from 25 to 227
— more than 5 percent of the entire Homewood
undergraduate class. To accommodate the swelling numbers,
the class this intersession moved into the 500-seat Hodson
Endowed by a gift from trustee Joseph R. Reynolds Jr.
and his wife, Lynn, the course is run by the
Whiting School of
Engineering's W.P. Carey Program in Entrepreneurship
and Management. The primary goal of the Carey program,
which offers a business minor, is to provide Hopkins
students with the knowledge and skills to become leaders in
Invitation to Entrepreneurship is open to all
undergraduates in the Whiting School and the Krieger School
of Arts and Sciences.
Marybeth Camerer, W.P. Carey Program coordinator, said
that she attributes the entrepreneurship course's success
to word of mouth and the strength and diversity of the
"It is also an enjoyable way to spend the week, while
at the same time developing career ideas and taking
advantage of networking opportunities," Camerer said. "It's
very different than a traditional class. Some of the
speakers have some very funny, interesting stories to tell.
These are people who are out there participating in the
real world and can share their experiences. For students to
have that kind of exposure to the world after graduation is
very valuable to them."
Each daily session goes from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
and features an introduction to a topic, at least two guest
speakers, a discussion and wrap-up. Along the way to
writing a final two-page synopsis of their own
entrepreneurial product or service, students learn about
intellectual property, financial resources, marketing and
the basics of a business plan. They also are required to
hand in four other homework assignments during the week.
Speakers this year included Harvey Kushner, an alumnus
and president of Kushner Management Planning Corp; Aris
Melissaratos, secretary of the Maryland Department of
Business and Economic Development; Barclay Knapp,
university trustee and former president and CEO of the
British media company NTL; and Steve Battista, director of
marketing for Under Armour.
Buppert, who spoke last Wednesday, talked of his rapid
rise to success and all the pitfalls that have come with
the territory, such as, how does the youngest person in the
company earn employees' respect? His answer: "work harder
than everyone else." Buppert also told of the less
glamourous side of being a president and CEO, like having
to lay off people and exact money from customers late on
He said he's made a few "minor" mistakes along the
way, too, and he felt that was important for the students
to hear. He warned them not to micromanage and of the
importance of listening to advice from those smarter than
"While I don't think much that I say here can save
other people from making the same mistakes, I was hoping
that there would be some people in here who would say,
'This is actually what I'm going to do,' and maybe they
would call me in five years when they are in that situation
and say, 'I would love to get some insight from you as you
had to have gone through this before,'" he said.
During a break in Buppert's talk, Mary Sue Easter Eggs
were handed out to all the students. Buppert, who grew up
with the candy, said a passion for the product or service
is a needed ingredient for success.
"The key is the passion, the drive, the energy and
motivation to get up every morning when you're tired and
don't feel like dealing with it all, or things just aren't
going in the right direction," he said.
Each day last week, several randomly selected students
were invited to join the speakers and organizers of the
class for lunch at the Hopkins Club so that they could
continue the day's discussion. In addition, the class had
breaks during which students could chat with the
Camerer said that the intersession class is the
perfect primer for those who want to enter the W.P Carey
Program's Business Plan Competition, which annually awards
$5,000 to the individual or team submitting the best plan.
Second- and third-place prizes are also awarded. Initial
plans for the 2004 competition are due by 3 p.m. on Feb.
"This course gives them just a taste of what it's like
to start a business from scratch or take over an existing
one," Camerer said. "We hope [this class] gets them
thinking about a detailed, full-fledged plan."