Syracuse University Magazine

Accelerator Program Sparks Student Ventures

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Patrick Ambron '09 (left) and Pete Kistler '11 of Brand-Yourself.com receive congratulations from Paul Brooks of the Syracuse Technology Garden after the company was honored with the Best Presentation Award at the 2010 SmartStart UNYTECH Venture Forum, Upstate New York's premier venture capital event.



Some students just can't wait to start their own businesses. The Syracuse Student Start-up Accelerator, a cross-campus initiative, feels their ambition and is helping them turn their ideas into functioning enterprises in advance of Commencement Day. After just a year in operation, the program, founded as a Chancellor's Leadership Project, is already enhancing SU's position as a national leader in entrepreneurship education, while supporting the University's commitments to economic revitalization and community life in Central New York. "We've been teaching students how to develop proposals and plan businesses," says Bruce R. Kingma, associate provost for entrepreneurship and innovation. "Now we're taking things to the next level. We're fostering actual student ventures by providing them with faculty and alumni guidance as well as a variety of beneficial opportunities created by our partners in the business community." The CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity (formerly the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce), a primary partner in the initiative, provides downtown space for fledgling student enterprises, including Accelerator ventures, in the Syracuse Technology Garden, a gathering spot for the area's tech-minded business folk and business-minded techies.

The student gateway into the program is its academic component, a two-course sequence consisting of What's the Big Idea? (fall) and Idea 2 Start-up (spring). Information studies professor Michael D'Eredita, who teaches the sequence, finds a mix of students attracted to the classes. "Some are quite focused on what they want to do and others just want to explore the possibilities of entrepreneurship or of starting a nonprofit organization," he says. "They vet their ideas and we help them identify problems and figure out whether what they've got is a viable venture. In the process, students learn about each other and team up to form ventures." An important aim of the fall semester, according to D'Eredita, is for students to become aware of the time, energy, and emotional commitment it takes to start a business. "That's the passion component," he says. "If they're confident they have it, they move on to venture creation in the spring."  

Brand-Yourself.com, which describes itself as "an online reputation management platform" for job seekers, is by several measures the most successful venture to benefit from the Accelerator thus far. Recognized at the Kairos Global Summit as one of the top start-up companies of the past year, it is the first business to "graduate" from Accelerator support. In a blog posted in May on the iSchool's Information Space, Pete Kistler '11, the company's CEO, praised the Accelerator program. "When you're launching a company, you need a productive place to grow your team," he wrote. "For young companies, there is nothing more important than having support, space, and advisors. SU is bringing together young entrepreneurs in a meaningful way to share ideas, share knowledge, and tap into the resources of the school and the region." Other Accelerator start-ups currently doing business range from a chocolate manufacturer and a bicycle rental service to a nonprofit boxing club that is dedicated to  helping at-risk kids.

D'Eredita sees the Accelerator at the core of a growing community of Central New York innovators that will help stem regional brain drain and economic stagnation. "When people come to Syracuse, we want them to know they can have more than education; they can have opportunity," he says. The possibilities for the Central New York region presented by the program have attracted five area colleges to participate: Le Moyne College, SUNY ESF, SUNY Morrisville, Onondaga Community College, and Cayuga Community College. Kingma is working to further augment resources by enlisting the services of SU alumni from around the world. "The program is still in its infancy, but I see it taking off already," he says. "It's attracting the right students-the kind who are so ready to start companies and organizations that they don't want to wait until after graduation."  —David Marc

Calling all alumni innovators, entrepreneurs, and new venture owners!  

Are you willing to mentor a student company? Share your story in one of 160 entrepreneurship courses across campus? Have your story told on the entrepreneurship web site? Contact Bruce Kingma at brkingma@syr.edu.

Photo courtesy of the School of Information Studies