CMC’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) is making sure that students with great ideas get a taste of what it’s like to run a startup.
The CIE’s new program, the Startup Award, allows students to apply for funding to take their startup idea from paper-napkin stage to real working business, said Aman Raghuvanshi ’18, who heads up venture development as a student associate at CIE. “We’ll work with applicants to set milestones, which we then translate into accountable goals.”
The awards are decided on a rolling basis, with applications accepted all year. “We’re casting a pretty wide net, and that’s already reflected in the kinds of student entrepreneurs we’re talking to,” saidJanet Smith, Director of the CIE and Von Tobel Professor of Economics at CMC. “Some are basic, like on-campus food delivery services, others are bigger ideas.”
The program, which is open to students at all five undergraduate institutions (teams of students must have at least one current CMC student), has already had six or seven applicants, and several startups have received funding for their initial stages. One team provides student-to-student delivery to dorms; another, 1Reach, is an innovative way to exchange contact information. (All current funded programs can be found at the CIE’s web site.)
Funding is unrestricted, and although the amounts tend to be in the $500 range, , students whose ideas are awarded then have the opportunity and the experience to apply for more funding should their ventures develop sufficiently. The students also gain access to CIE’s board of advisors and mentoring network, which incluces alumni and parents who are willing to help with ventures, and in some caes, provide additional funding.
The real point, added Smith, is the learning process. “The milestones are partly set up for people to figure out quickly whether or not [the idea] is viable.” Students might, for instance, use the grant to fund marketing efforts that reveal a pivot point they need to make in order for their startup to move to the next stage, or uncover flaws or competitors they didn’t know existed before.
“Part of the value of this is not the actual funding,” said Raghuvanshi. “We’re getting people to…think of themselves as entrepreneurs, not just entrepreneurship as this unreachable thing.”
Projects that get funded by the Venture Grant also receive mentorship from the CIE leadership team, which comprises entirely students. “Because we’re students as well,” said Raghuvanshi, “we can understand what is possible and how dedicated you can be in terms of time and other commitments.” The CIE team works closely with student entrepreneurs to create reasonable milestones that will move a startup idea into real business territory.
Edgar Warnholtz Perez ’19, who received a Startup Award for 1Reach, will use the funds to test the hypothesis behind his idea and take basic steps like building 1Reach’s social-media profile. The company would alleviate the awkwardness and repetitiveness of the process of exchanging social-media profiles and contact information. Perez says that although the monies are helping, they’re only a part of the eventual success of any startup. “To me, [the award] means that there's already someone who believes our vision, so it brings motivation and hope,” he said.
The Startup Award is part of a larger aspirational program, , still in its nascent stages: The proposed CMC Venture Fund will make “early stage, growth equity, and later-stage investments” in student-run businesses. The fund will be launched when it reaches $1 million. CIE is currently soliciting funding to reach that goal.
Applicants to the Startup Award can e-mail Raghuvanshi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alumni interested in participating in either providing mentorship or donating to the Venture Fund can connect with Professor Smith, Janet.email@example.com