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Encouraging Youth Entrepreneurship

January 24, 2003

Whether the reason is to spur more innovation among students, fight the brain drain of graduates or simply help to build tech-based economies, many states, communities and universities are targeting a portion of their efforts toward encouraging tech-based entrepreneurship among their young residents and college students.

If the purpose is to encourage students to consider more risk-taking career options like tech-based entrepreneurship after graduation, then business plan competitions may prove beneficial. While only a few team or individual business plans may win the award in a given award cycle, the process of developing the concept and preparing the plan for all applicants can be useful for launching a more entrepreneurial mindset in the college or university.

For example, the Student Business Plan Competition recently launched by the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation (TTDC) promotes entrepreneurship at Tennessee colleges and universities by encouraging submission of plans of original business concepts. Business plans in technologies or life sciences are particularly encouraged; however, any commercial endeavor is valid. The winning individual or team for each of three regional competitions receives a $3,000 cash prize.

Under the TTDC competition guidelines, each team must have at least one Tennessee graduate or undergraduate student, being student led. The plan must describe a new business or an early-stage company. Award criteria consider the commercial potential of the business, the innovative nature or technical feasibility of the idea, the likelihood of longterm success, and the credibility of the individuals or team. To help level the playing field, ventures that have already received more than $250,000 in seed financing are not eligible. Award selection for 2003, to be announced in April, ultimately will go to those teams in which the judges would most likely invest their money.

Business plan competitions also can be integral components of more intensive strategies to encourage entrepreneurship. Like TTDC, the University of Maryland also offers a business plan competition that aims to find new venture ideas and build successful businesses. All UM undergraduate and graduate students, as well as alumni who graduated in the last five years, can compete for up to $50,000 in prize money under the University of Maryland Business Plan Competition. Prizes were made in three categories – emerging company, small business and concept-stage – to three groups in both 2001 and 2002. Up to six teams will compete in May to become finalists in the 2003 competition.

The UM business plan competition is just one part of the university's Hinman Campus Entrepreneurship Opportunities (CEOs) program, however. The program is open to select students from all academic disciplines, and participants are referred to as CEOs. One of the program's unique features is a special residence hall equipped with conference rooms equipped with teleconferencing systems and IP view stations, a computer lab and state-of-the-art technology that provides CEOs with an incubator-like business environment. Each resident's computer has voice, data and video communications capabilities and wireless access.

In conjunction with the CEOs program, the University of Maryland also oversees the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, which includes the Technology Advancement Program, the university's incubator for technology start-ups. In addition, UM's Entrepreneurship Citation Program, a selective program with sequential courses, is open to undergraduates, and the Smith School's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship provides community outreach programs in entrepreneurship.

Alternate approaches, like those taken by Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), focus on encouraging entrepreneurship exclusively in science and technology. Last fall, CWRU's Weatherhead School of Management created a new MBA specialization in Bioscience Entrepreneurship, the first such program in the country the school claims. In the program, MBA students are given the opportunity to carry an extended internship in bioscience, working with start-up biotech and bioscience firms or developing "intrapreneurial" market initiatives in larger organizations.

Case Western also has launched other programs to blend entrepreneurial thinking into the college experience of S&T students, such as the Institute for the Integration of Management and Engineering, the Physics Entrepreneurship Program, and the Science Entrepreneurship Program (SEP). In SEP, students are paired with a mentor from a participating science, math or statistics department, and the mentor acts as an academic advisor over the course of the two-year program.

Over the next few years, Weatherhead plans to develop a Center for Bioscience Entrepreneurship. The center will promote research and education on the commercialization of bioscience with research grants, academic conferences and expanded, non-degree executive education offerings.