From the November 1998 issue of Entrepreneur

It's about time entrepreneurs got what was coming to them--an exhibition hall celebrating their efforts. Last October, the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship opened at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

"It's a celebration of entrepreneurship," says William D. Bygrave, the center's director. Members of Babson's Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs, Babson alumni, and winners of Babson's John H. Muller Jr. Business Plan Competition, among others, are featured in product exhibits and video interviews in the exhibition hall. Current exhibits include a LEGO model, an L.L. Bean canoe and the first Bose hi-fi speakers. "It's not just a series of stagnant exhibits, but story lines about entrepreneurs getting started and about how they create wealth," says Bygrave.

In addition, the new center will house a 40-seat lecture hall wired for satellite broadcasting to allow remote teaching, and eventually there will be an archive of entrepreneurs' important papers, such as business plans and initial public offerings. "The purpose of the center is to get young people excited about entrepreneurship," says Babson, "and to [show foreign] professors and policy makers how we teach entrepreneurship." A little inspiration for seasoned entrepreneurs couldn't hurt, either.

Post Haste

The U.S. Postal Service goes electronic.

It's d-day for mechanical postage meters, as the USPS slowly phases them out in favor of digital and electronic postage meters that are more difficult to tamper with. Businesses are required to trade in their mechanical meters for electronic ones by December 31. The deadline for switching low-speed meters (meters imprinting fewer than 45 mail pieces per minute) is March 31, 1999.

Today, the majority of the 1.6 million meters in use are electronic. To encourage holdouts to switch, the USPS plans to take such measures as no longer accepting mail stamped with mechanical meters and no longer offering a refund on returned mechanical meters after the deadline has passed.

Food For Thought

"Lunch room" takes on a whole new meaning.

By G. David Doran

Asked to picture a typical office setting, most people envision Dilbertesque cubicles occupied by isolated souls.

In contrast, the offices of Mitchell & Co., a Toledo, Ohio, marketing agency, are anything but typical. An airy, loft-like space built around a fully equipped kitchen, Mitchell's "wall-less" office is designed to bring employees together.

While a kitchen-centric office may not be right for, say, an insurance agency, marketing is a creative business, says president Mark Mitchell, and this kind of setup is just right for unstructured, collaborative efforts like brainstorming sessions. "I want to make sure we aren't [using] solutions from last week," he says, "so I use the kitchen to stimulate people to think differently. And that extends into how we solve problems for clients."

There's no leftover tuna casserole on the menu in Mitchell's kitchen--the firm has three people on staff (including Mitchell himself) who double as master chefs when they're not cooking up marketing campaigns for clients like GenFlex Roofing Systems and Owens Corning.

Although Mitchell hasn't conducted a detailed study of his employee turnover rate during the 12 years that Mitchell & Co. has occupied this unique work space, he believes the kitchen and the company culture it represents have helped slow his company's brain drain. "It's hard to find and keep talented people," says Mitchell. "Money isn't the main motivating issue anymore. If I can provide a great environment where people want to come to work and feel that they're part of something, it makes it much easier to attract and keep talent." Besides, who can resist the smell of brownies baking in the oven?

It's Who You Know

Broaden your business contacts the easy way.

By Elaine W. Teague

Being a big fish in a small pond can be all it's cracked up to be when you join Business Network International (BNI). One of a growing number of referral organizations designed to promote the exchange of business contacts, BNI members enjoy profession-specific exclusivity: "Each BNI group has only one real estate agent, one mortgage lender, one financial planner and one chiropractor," says 12-year BNI member Kelli Holmes. Holmes and her husband, Mike, are Diamond Bar, California, painting contractors whose business relies entirely on referrals.

How does it work? At weekly meetings, members give 60-second presentations about their businesses, including the types of business referrals that would be helpful to them. "It's a lot more fun doing business relying on referrals than it is going out and cold-calling or spending a fortune on advertising," says Kelli. "We're not in the phone book, and I bet we're one of the busiest painting contractors around."

Call (800) 825-8268 or check out http://www.bni.com for the BNI group nearest you.

Contact Sources

Babson College, (781) 239-4420, http://www.babson.edu/entrep

Mitchell & Co., (419) 243-7600, mmitchell@mitchellco.com