When Management Professor Rich Dino started a course that helps non-business majors write a business plan, it filled almost instantly. He scheduled two more classes, and the same thing happened.
“This semester I have students majoring in everything from physics to music, and their different views enhance the class,” Dino said. “The doors are open to anyone with ideas.”
Meanwhile, in the Nursing Department, Dean Regina Cusson created a “Shark Tank”-like competition for seniors who have ideas for improving patient care in a clinical setting. This year, 18 students are vying for the top prize.
“It has really changed the way they think of themselves—as leaders, as change-agents,” she said. “My dream is to offer this type of program starting freshman year.”
Innovation and entrepreneurship are hot topics on campus, said the two dozen UConn leaders who attended the inaugural meeting of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Consortium on Jan. 28. In fact, within weeks of arriving on campus, freshmen are looking for opportunities to create new products, share ideas and explore business concepts.
The Consortium’s purpose is to provide a coherent vision of UConn’s entrepreneurial efforts, as well as inspire, support and encourage inventive and creative business ventures, simplify the start-up and grant-seeking process, and introduce potential business partners. The kickoff meeting provided information about a vast variety of programs on campus, ranging from an upcoming Innovation Quest competition to free legal help for business start-ups.
One speaker after another described, with great enthusiasm, the creativity, imagination and marketable potential of the ideas that students have presented to them.
“I was really delighted by how much is going on. I’m extremely optimistic about the collaboration that can occur,” said John A. Elliott, dean of the School of Business. He added that he was impressed by the availability of resources for students, faculty and other start-ups affiliated with the University. “There is a great appetite for business knowledge. Our challenge is to serve the demand.”
Among the new projects that UConn is launching, or considering, are:
- Creating a pre-seed Equity Fund for student entrepreneurs;
- Exploring a minor in entrepreneurship to offer more competitive advantages for students;
- Partnering with Yale University for the Yale Hackathon, where students will pitch ideas and learn business concepts; and
- Creating an Innovation Club.
Management Professor Timothy Folta, the Thomas John and Bette Wolff Family Chair of Strategic Entrepreneurship and director of UConn’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI) at UConn, serves as co-director of the Consortium with Hadi Bozorgmanesh, professor-in-residence in the School of Engineering.
“One of the founding principles of the consortium is that there is potential to be more effective for our own missions and stakeholders when we work together, when we are aware of each member’s special capabilities…and when we seek to leverage each other’s strengths,” Folta said in opening remarks at the meeting. “We are probably all here because we believe there is great potential for a win-win scenario. The consortium’s primary emphasis is to help create such an environment.”
Kathy F. Rocha, managing director of the Consortium, said she was pleased that experts from different fields were getting acquainted and brainstorming ways in which they could offer assistance. Other key university leaders in attendance were: Kazem Kazerounian, dean of the School of Engineering; Larry Silbart, vice provost for strategic initiatives; Greg Gallo, director of technology licensing at UConn, and Martha Bedard, vice provost for UConn libraries.
“This was an excellent kickoff with everyone getting the opportunity to meet each other and appreciate all that’s going on,” Rocha said. “With this exchange of ideas, I’m sure that we will be able to have a bigger entrepreneurial impact.”
Michelle Cote, managing director of CCEI, said the center serves students, faculty and UConn-affiliated ventures. In addition to a faculty- and grad student- workshop series, it is redesigning and launching an accelerator program and getting ready to launch startup venture grants and fellowships. She expects CCEI to support a large demand for life sciences and values-driven ventures.
Folta said he was more optimistic than ever that the consortium will lead to new patents, new ideas, greater collaboration and a sense of excitement on campus.
Participants highlighted many campus resources that benefit entrepreneurs, including:
- The annual Innovation Quest (iQ) competition each February provides an intensive business coaching experience in which with the winner ultimately gets cash prizes and introductions to venture capitalists;
- A campus “Innovation House” living/learning center in Belden Hall attracts serious innovators; while a new STEM dorm opening in Fall 2016 includes plans for an ‘innovation zone’;
- A U-Create pilot program for freshmen is developing a spirit of creativity among incoming students;
- IDEA Grants are available for undergraduates with original, creative and artistic endeavors and research projects;
- UConn technology incubators offer expertise on patenting, licensing and start-ups and are expanding rapidly, supporting businesses ranging from medical products to hydroponics;
- Plans are underway to create an Excellence in Innovation Award;
- Students and faculty have access to business legal advice through attorneys in the IP Law Clinic;
- Experts in accessing capital can be found at the Connecticut Small Business Development Center, housed within the School of Business;
- The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities offers an annual, intensive business-creation program for veterans, and is also launching a series of veteran-outreach certificate programs this spring.
- The Third Bridge Grant provides early stage funding to entrepreneurial engineering students who are trying to commercialize their own innovation.
- The University’s SCOPE program offers social-entrepreneurship programs that include student enterprise experiences in Guatemala, and supports the local chapter of the Net Impact organization.
- The Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is providing value-added services to UConn startups and to help students develop and practice entrepreneurial skills, including early-stage funding via venture-creation grants, summer fellowships and stipends; expertise and assistance from student consultants and professional mentors and entrepreneurial skills training via venture creation workshops.
Paul Parker, a project/program specialist in the Technology Incubation Program at UConn, said he was surprised at the breadth of expertise that exists on campus.
“By coordinating our efforts and getting more students involved, we will go a long, long way,” he predicted.
For more information on the Consortium, please visit entrepreneurship.uconn.edu.