Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Takes Shape Among Students
Students who have yet to get into the startup game at Georgia Tech might be intimidated by stories they hear around campus of successful peers. But perceived barriers to following in their footsteps may not be as insurmountable as aspiring entrepreneurs might think.
“Students think that they need to have an amazing idea before they can become an entrepreneur, but that isn’t true,” said Paul Freet, principal at VentureLab and a member of the Startup Gauntlet teaching team. “You don’t need an idea or an invention to be an entrepreneur. You just need a passion.”
Whether through student organizations such as the Scheller Society for Entrepreneurs (SSOE) and Startup Exchange; administration efforts such as the Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (ILE) and VentureLab; or on-campus incubators and competitions such as Flashpoint and the InVenture Prize, students across campus are parlaying their passions into entrepreneurial enterprises more than ever before.
No matter where students are in the entrepreneurial process, Tech has a campus organization, program, or competition to support them and their venture.
For students who want to explore their options and meet other would-be entrepreneurs, there’s the interdisciplinary Startup Exchange, a kind of “supergroup” for supporting ventures with a social mission. Startup Exchange maintains an open co-working space in the Library called The Exchange, and organizes and sponsors programs such as Hack@Tech, StartupChicks and Startup Semester, one of the first student-run pre-incubator programs in the world
Of all Startup Exchange programs, Startup Semester is considered the most rigorous.
“Startup Semester aims to take in students with teams and an idea and turn them into entrepreneurs,” said Chintan Parikh, a computer science major and director of Startup Exchange. Students can expect a clearly defined curriculum, weekly meetings, and a competitive environment. Its last cohort had teams go on to win the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize, interview at YCombinator, present at Startup Riot, and join the StartEngine incubator in Los Angeles.
And while many student entrepreneurial ventures involve an innovative product design or hands-on engineering process, students in the College of Business are equally as engaged, honing their start-up savvy through the Scheller Society of Entrepreneurs (SSOE), where networking is emphasized.
“I decided to start SSOE because of the need for an entrepreneurship organization within the College of Business, and because of the questions I had heard from my peers regarding how to find internships and networking,” said founder Christine Proctor, a fourth-year business administration student. “I also wanted to bring students together that shared a passion for innovation and hard work to discuss their dreams and hear helpful advice from local successful entrepreneurs.”
SSOE is open to undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, professionals, and faculty of all majors and industries. It’s designed for anyone who is interested in entrepreneurship, has started their own business, wants to start their own business, or wants to work for a startup or in an entrepreneurial niche of a larger company.
Preparing to Take Action
Both SSOE and Startup Exchange seek to help students identify opportunities for entrepreneurship regardless of whether they already have an idea or not. Other campus programs help students develop innovative ideas or promising opportunities into actionable ventures.
VentureLab, recently ranked second worldwide among university incubators, serves budding entrepreneurs by offering startup support for projects initiated through Georgia Tech research, the Georgia Tech Startup Competition, and Startup Gauntlet.
Open to all students, Startup Gauntlet is a bootcamp for those who want to develop a business model based on prospective customers’ needs, a useful exercise before launching a business.
“Startup Gauntlet is looking for students that are motivated, want to be entrepreneurial, and want to learn,” said Freet.
Participants in the six-week course are encouraged to make assumptions about how the consumer thinks and behaves and then test those assumptions on at least 10 potential customers every week. They must then analyze the results and create a business model that matches their customers’ needs and wants.
Launching Your Venture
For ventures that are ready for launch, campus competitions offer students a unique avenue through which to acquire funding, develop relationships with entrepreneurial mentors, and learn more about the final phases of the commercialization or implementation process.
But it’s not just about making money. Entrepreneurship at Georgia Tech is also about improving the human condition.
The Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (ILE) was created in the Scheller College of Business in 2006 to support entrepreneurship and encourage members of the Tech community to take the economical, social, and environmental impacts of their actions into consideration when making business decisions.
ILE offers a number of programs to support this mission, but its most visible is the Ideas to SERVE competition (I2S), which takes place every spring semester and is open to all students who have an early-stage product or service idea that is geared toward social entrepreneurship.
Kristen Daniel won Best Domestic Solution at this year’s I2S competition for her idea for The Pentorship Program, which connects inmates interested in entrepreneurship with successful entrepreneurs.
“I figured since inmates didn’t have access to the Internet, I could recruit seasoned entrepreneurs to become pen pal mentors,” said Daniel, who's pursuing a master's of business administration, of her Pentorship Program. She believes that providing entrepreneurial resources to inmates can help them make the transition upon release.
Other campus competitions include the Georgia Tech Startup Competition and InVenture Prize, both of which take place spring semester. At InVenture Prize, undergraduates compete for thousands of dollars, free patent filing, and a spot with Georgia Tech’s Flashpoint startup accelerator program.
On a campus where an entrepreneurial spirit thrives, and where a strategic goal is for graduates to possess that spirit, new opportunities to innovate and collaborate come up every week. A list of opportunities is available at startup.gatech.edu.
Students interested in learning more about how universities nationwide are promoting entrepreneurship can read this report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which mentions Tech’s Flashpoint program for facilitating university-industry collaboration.
Other resources include Entrepreneurship Magazine and Entrepreneur.com.