This is the last installment in a three-part series about entrepreneurship at Dartmouth.
While undergraduate entrepreneurship is on the rise, students often struggle to access Dartmouth's resources.
New groups like Mitosis, a student accelerator program started by Riley Ennis '15 and Matt Ross '15, are trying to connect student entrepreneurs with what they need. So far, however, students have criticized the lack of centralization between the undergraduate, graduate and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center resources.
"I came to a point where I thought, Shoot, maybe I want to do a startup to devise a product that will not only scratch my own itch but could have real product potential,'" said Branko Cerny '13, a co-founder of SquareOne Mail, a mobile application that sorts email. "But I'm psychology student, so I have no idea how to code or do anything."
Many top institutions, such as Stanford University and Princeton University, have umbrella organizations for entrepreneurship that help facilitate resource sharing and coordinate event planning among undergraduate and graduate students.
Although the success of startups like Facebook and new funding options for students may increase entrepreneurship's appeal, considerations like job stability and health care benefits continue to steer many students toward other post-graduate careers.
LOOKING FOR RESOURCES
Funding for campus entrepreneurship programs is not a problem, Ennis said. Mitosis was able to "very quickly" raise $10,000 in funding for its recent Impact Day and spring programs. The problem lies in the College's unorganized funding and resource structures.
"Dartmouth has the potential to be a major hub for innovation," Ennis said. "But we need a centralized platform to support entrepreneurship. These are just lost resources if we don't have one."
Cerny received technical resources and funding through his connection with Mitosis and outreach to friends, but found the process very time intensive.
"There are clusters and networks of amazing people and places," Cerny said. "There's just not a centralized network to access them."
Alison Stace-Naughton '11 had a similar experience when trying to launch Spiral-E solutions, which she co-founded with her Introduction to Engineering group. After winning the Tuck School of Business's business plan competition, the team wanted to pursue a patent for their product, a medical device to support the stomach during gastroenterological surgery, but had "no idea" what to do next.
"You need mentorship," Stace-Naughton said. "You can't figure out how to build a company on your own."
Stace-Naughton found the support she needed by reaching out to Tuck professor Gregg Fairbrothers, who continues to help by putting her in touch with relevant business contacts and helping her practice pitching Spiral-E Solutions to alumni.
"Fairbrothers is as close to an entrepreneurship office on campus as we have at Dartmouth," Stace-Naughton said. "It would be great if student entrepreneurs had an actual office space or lab space, somewhere to work like a headquarters where they could share ideas and develop their products."
Delos Chang '14 gained helpful contacts and advice from Fairbrothers for his two startup projects, Memeja and Timely, as well, but said the College needs more entrepreneurship advisors who are readily available to undergraduates.
"He's very knowledgeable, but he's also pretty booked," Chang said.
At elite institutions, student groups across the country host business plan competitions and invite entrepreneurial speakers to campus, but still struggle to centralize resources and promote student interest in entrepreneurship.
Many look to Stanford as a model, where strong institutional resources couple with a campus culture in which "everybody and their uncle is starting a company," said Stanford freshman Catalin Voss, the innovator in residence at Stanford's StartX accelerator program. StartX is a nonprofit organization that aims to develop entrepreneurship through education.
StartX provides student startup founders with readily accessible mentorships, free legal advice and "community check-ins," where participants can give each other feedback about their startups.
"Our most valuable asset, regardless of all resources, is the community," he said.
Roughly 12 percent of Stanford's student body has applied for admission to the StartX accelerator program.
Yale University provides student entrepreneurs with centralized resources, said senior Tony Wu, president of Yale Entrepreneurship Society.
The group, which organizes entrepreneurial efforts on Yale's campus, also funds undergraduate startups through a spring business plan competition, offering up to $15,000 for the first place team and access to graduate resources. The society maintains a physical plant on campus.
Princeton's entrepreneurship resources are brought together under the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, a student-run umbrella organization that organizes a business plan competition, a speaker series, Hackathon events and pitch competitions, said senior Momchil Tomov, president of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club.
"We have a variety of programs that are pretty self-contained, so the Princeton E-club tries to help coordinate between those," he said.
Princeton's club runs "TigerTreks," weekend trips to New York City to meet with successful startups and venture capital firms, as well as a week-long trip to Silicon Valley over the fall break. The club offers a "mini-accelerator" for student startups for one week of fall break.
Princeton hosts the East Coast Startup Summit in April, which aims to increase engagement between college students and recent graduates working on East Coast startups, Tomov said.
At Brown University, students have changed a culture that was not initially receptive to entrepreneurship, said sophomore Joshua Ezickson, president of the Brown Entrepreneurship Program.
"When the program was first started in 1998, business was extremely frowned upon at Brown," Ezickson said. "It was founded to create a space where people could talk about business without causing a riot."
The program has flourished thanks to institutional support, including supportive alumni, a physical plant on campus and a new business, entrepreneurship and organizations major. The program offers students an introductory Idea Labs program, which targets students new to entrepreneurship, and a Venture Labs accelerator program, which works with four to five student teams each semester.
The program still hopes to consolidate resources at Brown's undergraduate and graduate schools, Ezickson said.
Despite its close proximity to Silicon Valley, Pomona College has only just begun to provide entrepreneurship resources to students, said senior Walter Rivera, founder of the Pomona Ventures Club.
"About two years ago, late in my sophomore year, I realized that there were no resources for entrepreneurs here," Rivera said. "If you wanted to start a business, there was nowhere you could go."
Rivera reached out to alumni for funding and interviewed students to determine what they knew about entrepreneurship on campus. He discovered that 92 percent of students said they would not know where to look for support.
"I started Pomona Ventures to redefine entrepreneurship on campus," Rivera said. "We want it to mean problem solving. We want to help students take ideas from dreams to reality."
BEING YOUR OWN BOSS
While students are increasingly interested in turning engineering class projects into marketable products or selling iPhone application designs to local venture capital firms, entrepreneurship can require sacrifice.
For products that need Food and Drug Administration approval, launching a company takes at least two to three years. Startups do not provide an hourly wage, job security or health benefits.
"Entrepreneurship is not necessarily something that pays the bills," Stace-Naughton said. "It's been a really good learning experience for me, but it's a roller coaster some days are really busy and others are not. You're always scrounging for new funding, new opportunities."
The product development process for information technology startups can be much shorter, but finding funding is not as easy as students might think, Cerny said. SquareOne Mail recently signed a contract with Wasabi Ventures after a four-month review process.
"Investors don't come to you with a checkbook just because you have an idea," Cerny said. "You go through a long, elaborate process of due diligence where they investigate your business model, the competitiveness of your product, down to the personalities of your co-founders and how you work together as a team."
Some recent graduates have also secured funding through Upstart, a recently launched company founded by David Girouard '88 Th'89. The company funds student entrepreneurs based on their projected future earnings, said Alejandro Luperon '12, who recently received funding for his research on marketable products for electric simulation technology.
Chang spent the fall in Silicon Valley pitching Memeja to investors and accelerator programs. An off-term can be the perfect time for students to try to market a startup company before graduation, as many accelerator programs are roughly three months long, Chang said.
Katherine Franklin '15, a co-founder of the mobile health tracking app DiagnosMe, said her group was advised to seek funding through crowd-sourcing or an angel investor to finance the patent and FDA review process.
"I'm a biomedical engineering major, so I'm hoping we'll be able to get the funding we need," Franklin said. "I'm really passionate about the project and would like to see it go as far as it can."
Cerny is a former member of The Dartmouth senior staff.