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Purdue plants seeds for next generation

by Bridget Lair

June 2011

Indiana's young people are gaining experience and making connections for their careers through a new program that encourages innovation and fosters entrepreneurship for future technology-oriented professionals in the Hoosier state. The winner of NBIA's 2010 Incubator Innovation Award, the Purdue Technology Centers of West Lafayette's "Purdue Research Park Entrepreneurship Academy" is becoming a national leader in educating tomorrow's entrepreneurs.

Purdue created the Entrepreneurship Academy in 2007 with initial funding from a U.S. Department of Labor WIRED grant. The program also benefits from local sponsorships and volunteer hours from mentors, faculty and previous academy graduates. Each year, the academy selects 50 high school juniors and seniors with an aptitude for math, science and technology to participate in the weeklong program at Purdue University. So far, 178 students from 82 high schools in 42 Indiana counties have attended the academy.

"We want to communicate through the program that you can really impact the future of your incubator by creating tomorrow's entrepreneurial leaders at home," says Tim Peoples, director of the Purdue Technology Centers of West Lafayette. "We are all doing a lot to help entrepreneurs today, and we want to ensure that 10 years down the road is robust and full for the next generation. We are doing this by planting the seed early on to ensure entrepreneur development."

Program teaches students entrepreneurial basics

The academy is led by Purdue Research Foundation staff with critical assistance from industry leaders and successful high-tech entrepreneurs. During the academy, students learn about forming and managing a technology start-up, focusing on problem analysis, market assessment, competitive landscape analysis, marketing tools and presentation skills. The curriculum is based on the work of Wendy Kennedy, international entrepreneurship consultant and author of So What? Who Cares? Why You?

Students are provided with business cases, instruction and necessary materials to help them complete the program successfully. At the end of the week, students – working in groups of five – present 15-minute investor pitches in a modified business plan competition. Members of the three top-performing teams receive tuition assistance vouchers to subsidize costs to attend Purdue University. Each student who completes the program receives credit toward Purdue's Entrepreneurship Certificate program.

At the academy, students interact with entrepreneur mentors from the local area, including professors, small business owners, and entrepreneurs from the Purdue Research Park and the Purdue Research Foundation. Mentors contribute 15-20 hours to interact one-on-one with academy participants, allowing students to draw on the mentors' business experience.

According to Juliana Spiker, Entrepreneurship Academy coordinator, meeting with mentors is the pinnacle of the event for many participants. "Students are interested in hearing personal stories," says Spiker. "How did their mentors choose entrepreneurship? How has that choice affected their lives? These answers help students evaluate how becoming an entrepreneur will affect their lives in the future."

The Entrepreneurship Academy offers a unique experience for the entrepreneurs in the Purdue Research Park too. "Many of our park-based company leaders volunteer to mentor a team, where they are able to share their knowledge and talk about their experiences. It offers them an opportunity to give back to their community in an extraordinary way," says Peoples.

Benefits to students

The academy begins with two days of Kennedy's training program, which provides students with an introduction to entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking. The training then helps students frame their idea, understand their market and learn how to set themselves apart for investors. Classic business training exercises, such as explaining ideas to a layperson on a napkin, show students how to present their ideas simply and effectively.

Spiker says the napkin exercise is the first step where students start to understand the big picture of the academy. "Most of the attendees are STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) kids; they are A.P. students so they understand the technology," she says. "The napkin exercise helps them to understand how to explain their idea to people who do not necessarily understand the technology."

The second portion of the program provides an opportunity for students to work with their mentors and tour the Purdue Research Park to see businesses in action. "The theme of the program is that we are providing a multifaceted experience," says Spiker. "Students get the college experience staying in the dorms, and they get the full entrepreneur experience, via long hours from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. or midnight, networking and building an investor presentation."

The culmination of the weeklong academy is the investor pitch. Students benefit from workshops in public speaking and finance, where they learn how to present their ideas effectively, calculate sales projections and determine how much capital investment they need to create a successful business venture.

Academy generates results

To evaluate the impact of the program, Peoples and Spiker perform attitude and perception surveys at the end of the workshops. Survey results from 2009 and 2010 indicate that more than 40 percent of the attendees intend to take entrepreneurship-related classes in college. Upon completion of the academy, about 70 percent of the students said they were interested in starting, leading or joining a start-up (compared with the national average of 39 percent). The greatest student impact was observed in the area of learning, Spiker says. Post-academy, 89 percent of the students said they believe they had the skills, tools and understanding to start a new venture, compared with 50 percent on the first day of the academy.

According to Peoples and Spiker, some students who attended the academy have already started new businesses while still in high school or college. One such individual – a Purdue junior – is constructing his first building to house an assisted living facility that monitors mentally and physically impaired patients through technology.

Success stories and positive impacts contribute to the academy's ability to recruit students to Purdue University. Of the Entrepreneurship Academy graduates who are college eligible, 75 percent attend Purdue University.

Expansion in Indiana and throughout the U.S.

Based on the program's success, Purdue officials hope to add a second week to the academy by 2012 and eventually expand it nationally. "We had 90 nominations for 50 spots [in 2011]," Peoples says. "We would truly love to take this to a national level, create a national competition."

As a first step in that process, Purdue is working to create a model program that other groups can host to stimulate entrepreneurship in young, motivated individuals in their regions. To date, two other universities – North Dakota State University Research & Technology Park in Fargo, N.D. and Roosevelt University in Chicago – have purchased the Purdue program and conducted entrepreneurship academies. Spiker prepared a manual and three guide books to help the other schools plan successful events and provided on-site training during the events. Both universities indicated that their entrepreneur academies went well and that they plan to repeat the program in the summer of 2011.

Purdue plants seeds for next generation

2010 Incubator Innovation Award

Purdue Technology Centers of West Lafayette
"Purdue Research Park Entrepreneurship Academy"
1281 Win Hentschel Blvd.
West Lafayette, IN 47906

Organizational Structure: 501(c)(3)

Mission/goal: The goal of the Entrepreneurship Academy is to provide innovative math, science and technology-based business and life skills that empower young people and offer them unique opportunities and real-world experiences.

Students learn how to put ideas into motion.

Keywords: youth entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial pool, NBIA programs

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Fax: (740) 593-1996
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