FOR START-UP ENTREPRENEURS , youth has its advantages — particularly when you’re still in school.
Three years ago, Andy Tabar, then an 18-year-old college freshman at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., started up the first iteration of his web-development company, Bizooki, with less than $1,000 and a little bit of know-how.
To help get his business off the ground, Tabar applied for membership to the university’s “hatchery” called the Practicing Student Entrepreneur Program. Through the hatchery, which began in 2004, Tabar and about 70 of his fellow fledgling entrepreneurs have access to desks, computers, phones, fax machines and copiers. Students can bounce business ideas off of seasoned entrepreneurs in residence at the university, as well as seek out free marketing advice and accounting help.
Students also can apply for need-based seed funding or vie for larger sums through an annual business plan competition. Tabar garnered a $5,000 award in his freshman year but says “the amount of consulting and support that I’m getting from these people is just as valuable as any financial support that I’m getting.”
Entrepreneurship studies have long been a focal point at graduate business schools. Now, a growing number of colleges and universities are offering classes, degrees and support to undergraduates with big entrepreneurial dreams. In particular, school-sponsored “incubators” or “hatcheries,” once the domain of business schools, are giving budding entrepreneurs like those at Belmont a taste for ownership and a testing ground to grow their businesses.
Incubator programs offered at universities including Arizona State University, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Syracuse University vary widely in their scope of services, accessibility and amount of seed money that gets doled out.
The University of Maryland at College Park, for example, offers universitywide access to mentors and entrepreneurs-in-residence as well as seed-stage funding on a case-by-case basis, with a maximum investment of $30,000 over two years through the Dingman Center of Entrepreneurship. The program also provides shared office space on a first come, first served basis.
Undergraduate students working on their businesses in one of Belmont University’s Practicing Entrepreneurship program hatcheries.
Two-thirds of those participating in the entrepreneurship incubator, according to Asher Epstein, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, are undergraduates while the rest are master of business administration candidates. Over the last few years, he says, about 15 to 20 businesses have been started via the program. Many have experienced success: Between five and 10 of those businesses now earn over $100,000 a year in revenue, while one business is up to $1 million, he says.
At Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., the program is more formal and typically only available, among undergraduates, to juniors and seniors. To gain entry to the program, which only accepts about five undergraduate businesses a year, students must offer an executive summary or a business plan and complete a statement of intent. Additionally, students must comply with unique milestones such as building a web site or getting shelf space in a retail store. Seed funding is also provided, although students can’t access it until they raise their first round of funding.