NC State program gives students space and freedom to connect
the seemingly unconnected
Ankesh Madan, Stephen Grey, Tasso Von Windheim and Tyler Confrey-Maloney are developing a tool that should scare potential perpetrators of drug-facilitated sexual assault. They say women should no longer have to be the ones who are afraid of date rape drugs.
The NC State undergrads have started a company called Undercover Colors, which is using advanced chemistry to develop a clear coat nail polish that changes color when it comes in contact with date rape drugs in a spiked drink.
The idea has won the group cash prizes, awards and a lot of attention. But they say it might not have found legs without the university’s groundbreaking Entrepreneurship Initiative (EI) and its diverse offerings.
“Over the past year, we've spent many late hours in the EI Garage developing company strategy and working on our business plan. It's great to have a creative space where we can bounce ideas off other young entrepreneurs who are committed to solving critical problems. Plus, the Garage connects us with all kinds of professional support - lawyers, business advisors, and successful entrepreneurs - that we just couldn't get anywhere else,” says Confrey-Maloney.
And they are not alone. The Entrepreneurship Initiative - and the associated ‘Garage,’ a business creating and prototyping space for NC State Students with a passion for entrepreneurship - has fostered many ideas from inception to market. For examples, the award-winning Track2Quit, a technology startup that develops products and services to aid in smoking cessation. Other examples include BetaVersity, which contracts with universities and businesses to help them build creative spaces patterned after the EI’s Garage, and the now patent-pending ‘Jar-With-a-Twist invention, which has received nearly unending interest by the media.
In 2013, Mark Delgado, a senior in Nuclear Engineering, was named Emerging Leader at this year’s Charlotte Business Journal Energy Leadership Awards. Working in the Garage, Mark developed one of the most novel innovations in radiation detection in decades, coupling a custom detector that he built to a smartphone via Bluetooth. Leveraging the data processing, networking, and geolocation capabilities of the smartphone allowed him to address a number critical problems in radiation detection, ranging from the power industry to medicine. Since graduation, Mark has been growing his business in Charlotte through the CLT Energy Business Incubator.
The EI has even helped launch service-oriented enterprises. Pennies 4 Progress, for instance finances high-impact projects in the areas of K-12 education and hunger. Developed by a multidisciplinary student team working in the Garage, the organization recently won the Intstitute for Emerging Issues prestigious $50,00 Prize for Innovation.
Similarly, Owen Jordan, founder of RESQD, a lifestyle brand that funds education opportunities for orphans, was featured as a Commitment Maker at the Clinton Global Initiative Conference in 2014.
NC State’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, established in 2009, is led by Executive Director Dr. Thomas K. Miller, along with a talented team and dedicated advisory board, who manage academic programs, communications and outreach, programs and special projects. The idea of the EI is to bring together a multi-disciplinary mix of faculty, staff industry and, most importantly, students in a community that thrives on a creative and immersive entrepreneurial experience. A central goal is to help students develop an ‘entrepreneurial mindset,’ while introducing them to opportunities that exist both during and after college.
The program collaborates with various entrepreneurship programs across the campus - such as the Poole College of Management, Arts Entrepreneurship, Engineering Entrepreneurs Program, Center for Nonprofits, Campus Housing, Office of Technology Transfer, Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science, College of Textiles and the College of Science - to provide opportunities for students to both learn from, help and partner with students in different disciplines. The strong network between various programs allows students to essentially create their ‘own adventure’ through an a la carte selection of activities, events, courses, trips and programs.
Of course, the EI also collaborates with many off-campus partners, including ThinkHouse, HQ Raleigh, American Underground, Groundwork Labs, Wake Young Women's Leadership Academy and Innovate Raleigh, to provide real-world opportunities for students to learn from and contribute to existing companies and organizations.
During the 2013/2014 academic year, over 225 interdisciplinary students worked in the Entrepreneurs Garage. Of these, 72% have either launched or plan to launch a venture within the next 5 years. During the same period, the EI’s Lulu eGames entrepreneurship competition had over 100 participants who developed products and/or business plans and won over $40,000 in prizes to help launch their ventures. Afterward, J. King White, one of the 2014 judges Tweeted enthusiastically about the “inspired ledger of creative student startups culminating with terrific event.”
Additionally, over 200 students participated in the Entrepreneurship Initiative Student Network this past year, and coursework for the program is wildly popular. For example, all 400 seats in EI 201 Introduction to Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurial Thinking were full (with waiting lists) in both the fall and spring semesters of the most recent academic year.
Last year, the EI also hosted over 150 guests including Bob Dorf, co-author of the Startup Owners Manual; Poornima Vijayashanker, founding team member of Mint.com and founder of BizeeBee and Femgineer; Anna Tharrington, Attorney, Hutchison PLLC; Dave Neal, Managing Director of The Startup Factory and former principal in Accelerant Ventures, LLC; Bob Creeden, Executive Director, Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network; UNCTV; Melanie Saunders reporter, NBC-17 "What's Next" series; Bill Nussey, CEO of Silverpop; and F. Scott Moody, Co-Founder of K4Connect.
Off-campus, thirty students participated in tours of either the RTP startup or Silicon Valley ecosystems through the EI’s annual offering of trips and tours. Additional companies on the tour roster included NEST, Launchpad Toys, Prezi, Apple, Google and Facebook.
To further strengthen the EI’s offerings, NC State will open The Andy and Jane Albright Entrepreneurs Living & Learning Village in August 2014. The inaugural class will consist twenty or more students living together as they expand their entrepreneurial mindset.
If public attention is any measure of the success of an innovation-based organization, the EI is surely leading the pack. Numerous news articles have featured the program’s activities, including a UNC TV feature story; an interview with Dr. Miller and students, Owen Jordan and Suzanne Matthews, for Kauffman Foundation’s ID8 National series; a documentary on innovation in US universities by the Korean Broadcasting System; a frontpage story in the Raleigh News & Observer about the Joeveo coffee mug; and an NBC 17 live broadcast from the Garage highlighting NC State innovation.
Yet, just as entrepreneurs never stop ideating, the EI continues to evolve and expand. The next step is to finalize plans for a newly design Garage space that will house the Entrepreneurs Garage, a leadership center and a technology incubator on NC State’s Centennial Campus. Through this unique combination, students will have unprecedented opportunities for experiential learning, embedded in a ‘living laboratory’ of actual start-up companies.
Other growth plans include expanding the Lulu eGames to include additional prizes and new categories; offering additional trips and tours to entrepreneurial hotspots such as Austin, New York and Boston; creating new online resources for both on campus and off campus entrepreneurial thinkers; expanding our curricular offerings through new Certificate programs and new course introductions; expanding opportunities for NC State alumni entrepreneurs; expanding formal entrepreneurial internship opportunities; and introducing outreach programs that bring entrepreneurial opportunities and engagement to middle and high school students.