Business school, student band partner to aid Micronesia islands
May 29, 2013
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) It began as an entrepreneurship class assignment in La Sierra University’s Zapara School of Business – develop a viable venture and demonstrate market acceptance through social media.
Business management and religious studies major Sterling Spence, a member of the business school’s “Principals of Entrepreneurship” class, settled on a path of launching a social venture. He first considered a vegan restaurant and a lifestyle center. “I chose the tour because I realized I wanted to put together a plan …that would incorporate avenues of service,” he said.
Spence, a member of music band The Coyote Bandits, devised a business plan for a band tour that will ultimately become a vehicle for bettering the lives of thousands of impoverished residents of Micronesia, an area of 3,000 or so islands in the South Pacific. His business plan and YouTube ‘elevator pitch’ video, made with the help of friends, earned him an A in the class and the support of the business school.
Spence co-founded the Bandits two years ago. The group is comprised of six current and former La Sierra University students. The group’s local performance venues have included Back to the Grind coffee shop in downtown Riverside and the La Sierra University Church for worship services. They have been featured on Coyote Radio at California State University, San Bernardino and in 2012 released their first recording, “Riverside Revival” featuring folk, indie and rock music. They have since produced two additional albums, “Heaven’s on the Side of the Revolution,” and “The American Dream.”
Spence’s business plan calls for the group to produce a summer West Coast tour, the Wayfarer Tour, to raise $100,000 for Canvasback Missions Inc. in Benicia, Calif. The 501(c)3 nonprofit, established by Spence’s parents 32 years ago, provides free medical and dental services, diabetes and nutrition programs and other aid to residents of the tiny islands of the Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of the Marshall Islands.
The Bandits will kick off the tour with an appearance June 25 on Loma Linda Broadcasting Network, then hit the road to perform through July and August ending at La Sierra University on Aug. 25. The band will perform in California, Oregon and Washington, at Redwood Camp Meeting, Soquel Camp Meeting, churches and other venues in between. A tour schedule can be accessed at http://www.thecoyotebandits.com.
The band will seek various contributions for Canvasback including cash, in-kind donations, tour sponsorships, and stipulations through wills, trusts and gift annuities. All tour proceeds will go to Canvasback. The Zapara School of Business and the university’s Advancement office are investing $5,000 to cover basic expenses including gas, food, lodging, compact disc and t-shirt costs.
In fulfillment of the entrepreneurship class assignment, Spence and members of the Coyote Bandits created a promotional video about the trip and uploaded it to YouTube for the purposes of demonstrating market acceptance of their business model. Students’ elevator pitch videos were required to receive 1,000 views or likes. By the sixth week, the Coyote Bandits video had received over a 1,200 views. The band asked 10 friends to share the video link with another 10 people, who were then asked to spread the word to another 10 people, and so on. The video can be accessed here: http://www.youtube.com/thecoyotebandits
John Thomas, dean of the business school and professor of the “Principals of Entrepreneurship” course described Spence’s approach as an “out-of-the box idea worth exploring. He uses a social entrepreneurship model to raise funds and is hoping to help people in Micronesia,” Thomas said. “The business plan he wrote is realistic and viable compared to other plans that made claims that were hard to execute.”
The Coyote Bandits project embodies the business school’s motto, ‘Create Value. Make a Difference,’ Thomas said. It is a university-wide ethos that has impacted Spence, his friends and many others. “La Sierra has ingrained in me that service to others is so important,” said Spence. “This whole project came through Dean Thomas’s entrepreneurship class. He’s been very supportive.”
The Coyote Bandits write and perform original music blending old hymns, folk, indie, gospel, blues and bluegrass genres “in search of what it means to be people imagining a better world,” the group states on its Wayfarer Tour executive summary. Their music is available on Spotify and iTunes.
Band members are Scott Wilson, electric guitar, Doug Stowers, bass, Michael Aguirre, drums, Jaylene Chung, vocals, violin, mandolin and keyboard, Spence on vocals, guitar, banjo and mandolin, and Christian Liang on guitar and vocals. Member Alex Hirata serves as band manager and roadie. The male band members except for Liang share a house and often break into impromptu jam sessions, the musicians said.
The tour allows band members a vehicle for expressing their love of music and interests in outreach. Spence, Wilson and Hirata have previously served as student missionaries on the Micronesian islands of Yap.
Chung graduated from La Sierra with a Master of Business Administration in nonprofit management and is pursuing a master’s in theological studies. She studied music as an undergraduate at Pacific Union College in Angwin. “Mixing it [music] with theology and nonprofit work is a good way to combine everything I’ve been interested in and have a passion for,” she said.
“I’ve never done anything like this,” said Wilson. “It’s pretty exciting. Hopefully it will be a huge success.”
Canvasback, established in1981 by Spence’s parents Jamie and Jacque Spence, serves an area of approximately 150,000 residents annually through teams of volunteer health care providers and educators who travel the far-flung islands that comprise the Micronesia region. The Spence’s story, relayed on their organization’s web site, began with the construction of the 71-foot, aluminum-hulled Canvasback, “one of the world's largest sailing catamarans.” Staffed with volunteers, the Canvasback brought free medical, dental and eye care to residents of islands reachable only by sea. Their first territory consisted of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and later branched into the Federated States of Micronesia.
By 1998 the program had outgrown the catamaran, and eventually also outgrew the services of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, donated by the United States government through an act of Congress. Canvasback sold the cutter and continued developing health care and educational services for the Micronesian islands and Marshall Islands, including providing supplies and equipment for government-established island hospitals and education for island health care workers.
Canvasback has provided more than $23.6 million in medical and dental services, health education and relief supplies to Pacific Islanders and completed more than 52,300 patient exams and 30,587 dental procedures in the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, the organization states.