Fostering student entrepreneurship at Mercer University

Student sitting behind table jewelry and other items

Loren Reddish

Prachi Henna Art is set up at Mercer University’s Annual Gothic Festival.

Prachi Patel might have been born with an entrepreneurial soul.  She started selling her toys when she was just three years old. When she turned five, she would put cotton balls sprayed with fragrance inside tobacco cans and sell her homemade air fresheners for a dollar each.

“My mom and dad would always buy anything I asked for in terms of crafting or things to entertain myself,” Patel said. “I always would go to Youtube and learn how to make literally anything under the sun.”

As she got older, the products changed but the plan stayed the same. The recent Mercer University graduate started Prachi Henna Art LLC. In 2021, Patel had only a small table with a comforter used a tablecloth in Tatnall Square Park, but she made $300 her first day.

Patel graduated in May with a major in chemical commerce and a focus in business management. She said the things she learned in the classroom were instrumental in helping her grow her business. Mercer also offers a major and minor in entrepreneurship.

“A lot of the younger generation may be interested in forming their own organizations to hold more of their own destiny in their hands, rather than being employed somewhere,” said Dr. Marko Horn, who was tasked with creating much of the entrepreneurship curriculum. 

“The first course brings you how to identify an opportunity, creating a written business plan that’s organized so that you can finance this venture,” Horn said. “Students can act as a consulting team to existing entrepreneurial firms on the outside and do a consulting project with them, write a proposal, execute it, and write a final report.”

One of the notable Mercer student startup successes is Z Beans Coffee, which grew out of a conversation founder Shane Buerster (’18) had with a government official while on a school-sponsored mission trip to Ecuador.  Buerster started roasting Ecuadoran coffee beans in a popcorn popper at the Mercer Innovation Center, but now has three coffee shops in Macon, as well at shops in Atlanta, Warner Robins, Columbus, Jacksonville (AL), Orange Park (FL), and Corbin (KY).

As Patel’s business has grown, she has started offering counseling to other students who want to start a business. 

“I will help you figure out what your brand goals are, what the best products are to start with, and kind of walk you through what social media platforms as well as online tools are most important to get your name out there,” Patel said.