There are no helicopter rides over Manhattan or champagne sunset toasts, but there aren’t any hysterics or meltdowns either. It’s not the Apprentice; it’s the Lion’s Apprentice, the College of New Jersey’s take on the Donald’s wildly popular on-air business competition.

Patty Karlowitsch, program assistant for the college’s School of Business, coordinates the program, which is about enter its second season, and is looking for a little help from the business community.

“It’s similar to the Apprentice,” she says. “We invite area businesses to design a project and challenge our students.” Individual students form teams, or join with friends and present themselves in teams, and seek to solve a real-life problem for a business. Last year five teams of four students each worked on challenges from Bloomberg, the Trenton Thunder, the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce, Robbinsville-based the Mega Group, and two college offices — residence life and Sodexho, the college’s food service provider.

Teams are eliminated one-by-one, but gently. “There is no ‘You’re fired!’” says Karlowitsch. Instead, judges, who are drawn both from the college and from the business community, listen carefully to presentations and offer feedback. Significantly, says Karlowitsch, “people are not eliminated; teams are eliminated.”

On the television program there is ongoing, vicious back-biting. The game is often not so much about coming up with a business solution, but rather about plotting to cut the weak from the herd and undermine them — torture them, in some cases. The College of New Jersey, which recruits teams from every department, and not just from among business students, will have none of that.

“On the television program there is a lot of directing going on,” says Karlowitsch, explaining the frequent episodes of high drama. “There is a lot of competition. But here we don’t encourage backbiting. The students need to be educated to cooperate.”

During the first Lion’s Apprentice season, last spring, teams did everything from decorate a dorm room to be included on campus tours to sell Trenton Thunder tickets to market a sophisticated Bloomberg financial information product. Each project took a week, which, it turns out, was a little too long. “In debriefings students told us that it took too much time,” says Karlowitsch. “They still had to keep up with all of their other coursework.” As a result, this year’s competition, starting this fall, will likely allow two weeks for the completion of each challenge.

While students were stressed by the competition’s time demands, they were delighted by its rewards. There was a prize for each task, and the winners found the prizes potentially more valuable than the jewels and yacht trips that Donald’s Apprentices enjoy. “The Mercer Chamber of Commerce invited the winners to its awards banquet and acknowledged them there,” says Karlowitsch. “What a networking opportunity!” The Trenton Thunder challenge champs were announced at a ballgame. The winners of the Bloomberg challenge were invited to the company’s Skillman campus for lunch with executives at an event hosted by David Puskar, a TCNJ alumnus who was one of the people who came up the idea for the Lion’s Apprentice.

And everyone had ample opportunity to network with the judges, including Kristin Appelget, then president of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce and now communications chief at Princeton University, and David Stryker, an assistant treasurer at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

“The judges really got into it,” says Karlowitsch. “At first they just listened to the presentations, but then they started throwing in questions.” The Lion’s Apprentice slowly built an on-campus audience too.

There was even a television-like twist. “The students didn’t expect it,” says Karlowitsch, “but at the end the winning team was given $1,000.”

There is still time for area businesses to be part of the Lion’s Apprentice. Until Thursday, September 7, businesses can submit a one-page proposal to challenge student teams for the next season, which begins on Tuesday, September 26.

A representative from each company presenting a challenge will become a project manager. His or her responsibilities will be limited to a two week span, and will include presenting the challenge to all teams on a designated Tuesday evening, in the School of Business; providing applicable resources for the teams to accomplish the task; returning in two weeks to select the presentation that best satisfies their project, and provide a reward to members of the winning team; and joining the panel of judges to determine which team will be eliminated that week.

The projects should be realistic and geared to challenge the students’ leadership skills and abilities to deal with conflict and risk. Student teams will be called upon to exhibit aptitude in business analysis, and/or product design and promotion.

The school is also looking for judges. The time commitment is greater, as judges have to be available for every challenge. Anyone not able to present a challenge or sit at the judges’ table, but who would like to participate in some way, is urged to contact Karlowitsch by E-mail at karlowit@tcnj.edu or by phone at 609-771-2567.

There are many ways to be involved in the Lion’s Apprentice. Just about everything but glaring down from a throne-like executive chair and shouting “You’re fired! Now go. Go. Get out of here.”

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