Executive MBA Student Shapes Small Business—Twice

Executive MBA Student Shapes Small Business—Twice

It's a given that the professionals earning their degrees at the Oregon Executive MBA immediately apply what they learn to their workplaces. Recent graduate Heidi Dewitt took this process several steps further. Not only did she bring her MBA savvy to her role as a demand generation program manager at HP, she also used it to shape two startup businesses during her 20 months in the program.

Soon after Dewitt started at the Oregon Executive MBA in fall 2018, her husband Jared Ritz cofounded a small housecleaning company serving households in Washington's Clark County. 

From the get-go, Dewitt found that she could take the concepts she was learning at the Oregon Executive MBA and put them to work in Ritz's startup.

“In the first year of the program, we had an accounting course. So I went home from that class and said, 'okay, how do I create activity-based costing with the fixed cost of the business?'" said DeWitt, who also worked with the company to institute practices like quarterly and annual business reviews.

Launching the 2.0 Version

By early 2020, Dewitt had been promoted to worldwide tools and processes lead at HP. Meanwhile, Ritz and his original business partner had realized that each had different ideas for the business's future. When the Covid-19 stay-home orders hit, and the cleaning business came to a temporary standstill, Ritz and his cofounder dissolved the company and came to an amicable agreement to part ways.

Now Ritz and Dewitt were free to formulate a new kind of cleaning service, combining their on-the-ground experience with the first company and insights Dewitt had gained through her MBA courses. The new venture, CleanSpace360, would set itself apart with its excellent treatment of customers—and employees as well. 

From the consumer's point of view, the key was to provide each customer with a single house cleaner who would show up on time, on a scheduled date, and clean thoroughly and carefully. 

On the staffing side, Ritz would hire only the most dedicated house cleaners, pay them top rates, provide paid vacation, and make sure that these employees had the best quality of life possible by focusing on relieving some of the pain points he and Dewitt had observed in the first company. 

CleanSpace360 takes care of cleaners' insurance and supplies. The company also takes care of scheduling, planning the cleaners' daily routes specifically to minimize long drive times.

"If there's a morning cleaning in Battleground, we want to make sure that the afternoon cleaning is also in Battleground, and not in, say, Camas," said Dewitt. 

It Takes a Village (of MBAs)

Between her coursework and feedback from her peers, Dewitt can point to plenty of ways her Oregon Executive MBA experience helped shape CleanSpace360. 

To find the ideal audience for the new company's online ads, Dewitt looked back to the profiling exercises she explored in Kathy Long Holland's marketing course.

"I dug up profiles for Clark County. If we're targeting Ridgefield zip codes, what does that person look for?" said Dewitt.

Legal environment of business instructor Scott Schnuck's memorable mantra that, to prevent unexpected wipeouts, "what lawyers do is walk the descent with you" was front of mind for Dewitt when she and Ritz made sure to hire a lawyer right when they first founded the new company. Dewitt also made use of Schnuck's recommendation for negotiating contracts from the CleanSpaced360's vendors. 

"It's unbelievable how much flexibility companies have when you know that you can negotiate," Dewitt said.

Thanks to Andrew Nelson's course on opportunity recognition, Dewitt knew she and Ritz wouldn't need a herd of venture capitalists and millions of dollars to start their business--just a good idea that they could turn into action. 

When Dewitt pitched the CleanSpace360 business plan in Ed Warnock's new venture planning course, fellow students jumped in with recommendations drawn from their own areas of expertise. One classmate, a brand manager at Nike, even helped out with the look and feel of the initial branding. 

"It's really interesting how when you have that cohort of nearly 50 professionals, you have so many different people with different skillsets that you can bounce ideas off," said Dewitt. 

Even after graduation in June 2020, this collaborative network is going strong. Dewitt recently tapped cohort-mate Andy Cameron for his marketing insights.

"Andy is like a marketing wizard. We've been bouncing back and forth ideas on how to position a Facebook ad campaign and different target markets," said Dewitt. 

The Road Ahead

With CleanSpace360 off to a flying start, Dewitt and Ritz are busy proactively tackling the business's next challenges: finding dedicated cleaners and staying focused. 

"Our goal right now is to keep building a solid foundation. Once we've done that, I think the sky's the limit," said Dewitt.