Thursday, the launch of the third annual Entrepalooza echoed the Entrepreneurship Initiative’s effort to assist NC state students in developing entrepreneurial mindsets and pursuing product development.
In the past five years, 66 startups have gone through NC State University’s entrepreneurship clinic and raised $220 million in outside funding, according to Lewis Sheats, assistant vice provost and executive director of the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic.
What began as an event of 350 attendees three years ago, has turned into an event of 850. At Entrepalooza, student entrepreneurs and local companies, such as Smashing Boxes and Rhythcor, looked to expose their innovative products to both consumers and potential business partners.
One of the highlights of the event is the Minute to Pitch It contest. This year, 15 contestants competed on stage to pitch their startup idea to the audience at Entrepalooza in under a minute. The winners of the $1,000 prize, decided by an audience vote, were fourth-year students Alberto Anton Aparici and Alba Gubia Benito, both of whom are studying business, with their idea Car in Touch.
Of Entrepalooza’s 850 participants, one of them was Jonathan Sadler, a third-year studying business. Sadler is currently in the process of finding an idea, and came to Entrepalooza for inspiration.
“I’m taking an intro to entrepreneurship class, so I figured I might have to decide on what type of business to concentrate in,” Sadler said.
Travis Murray, a graduate student studying electrical computer engineering, is the founder of Rhythcor, one of the start-ups at Entrepalooza.
“One of our teammates — his dad’s a firefighter, and his coworker died from a heart attack,” Murray said. “So we started looking into that, and found that it’s actually the leading cause of death among all firefighters. We’re making an undershirt that is able to monitor the firefighters’ heart, detect warning signs of a heart attack, and you get help before it happens.”
Murray is not only a startup founder, but an Entrepreneurship Initiative fellow as well.
“That [Entrepreneurship fellowship] provides access to some of NC State’s resources,” Murray commented. “Since I’ve already graduated and I’m not always on campus here, it lets me access databases from the library. I have access to the [Entrepreneurship Initiative] Garage, so I spend time in there, and they also give you a stipend to help cover living expenses, so I can focus on this, rather than having to find a job.”
The Entrepreneurship Initiative, begun in 2008, is what Haley Huie, director of the Albright Entrepreneurs Village, calls the “innovation hub” for student entrepreneurs on campus. Huie commented on the vision of the Albright Village, one of the many opportunities offered through the Entrepreneurship Initiative.
“We started with 12 village students two years ago when I came here,” Huie said. “We jumped up to 35, and this year we are at 68. This really does help you network outside of your immediate academic circles. When you’re thinking about forming a team, you want to form dynamic skill sets. It works for life and business.”
Along with the village, the Entrepreneurship Initiative includes the Garage, which is the “work-space community connection option,” according to Macy Thomas, the senior brand manager of the Entrepreneurship Initiative, which also features a State of Entrepreneurship livestream every Thursday.
“We also have trips and tours that we do,” Thomas said. “We do an annual fall break trip to NYC, and we do a spring break trip to Silicon Valley, San Francisco area. It’s a really eye-opening opportunity for students because when they think of a start-up, they think of these really big, sexy billion-dollar valuation companies. And then we take them to New York City, and we go to dingy offices in China Town, that have no air conditioning and no elevators.”
Haley Huie talked about how although the reality of start-up companies may not always be as glamorous as imagined, the impact of that experience can be tremendous.
“This is what it’ll be like when you’re counting squares of toilet paper early on,” Huie said. “Or you can’t afford furniture to go in an office space. But those are some of the things you look back on that are really powerful, so it’s great exposure.”
The Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies Research Center, one of two NSF research centers at NCSU, is the home of the startup VieMetrics, which is an R&D department for hire, according to co-founder James Dieffenderfer, a Ph.D. student studying biomedical engineering. The company engineers portable medical sensors for industry clients to test the effectiveness of their products.
“We kind of found out that we are pretty good at making these things [demo devices], and there are definitely other people in the Triangle who need health devices, so we kind of transitioned into strictly contract work, basically outsourcing R&D,” said Charles Hood, co-founder of VieMetrics and a third-year studying electrical and computer engineering.
Both Dieffenderfer and Hood began their work as researchers at the ASSIST Research Center. This provided Hood with the opportunity to supplement his undergraduate education with practical experience.
“Undergraduate careers typically teach you the fundamentals, so they’ll teach you the math behind it or teach you the theory behind it, but not the actual fabrication and workflow for making these things, and ASSIST has provided an environment so you really can, they have the resources and the expertise,” Hood said.
Another start-up at NC State, NextUp Music, has begun and operated mostly outside of the official channels for start-ups. NextUp Music is an app that “stops passing the aux,” and was realized to the app store March of 2017, according to Wynne Plaga, lead mobile developer for NextUp Music and a second-year studying computer science.
“I think there is a big perception that starting a company is an impossible thing to do, and I definitely had that impression when I came in, but it really isn’t, it seems challenging, but all you really have to do is come up with a good idea, and keep going at it and don’t give up,” Plaga said.
NextUp Music, like many of the newest start-ups today, was founded at a university by students. Plaga believes that universities are naturally a good place for start-ups to begin, because of the students.
“The great thing about being at a university is you have a lot of people who have a lot of free time, and are usually pretty skilled,” Plaga said.
Sheats also emphasized why colleges are the prime place for start-up companies and open entrepreneurs.
“We have a tremendous amount of smart people here who can see a problem and figure out a solution for it, and understand how to commercialize it and build a company around it,” Sheats commented. “We take students all the way from ideation to launch, and then we provide them the tools.”
The Entrepreneurship Initiative and its subsequent opportunities, including Entrepalooza, are prime examples of how NC State embodies innovation and entrepreneurship.
“It’s the entire mantra, think and do, that’s entrepreneurship: taking what’s actually happening in the classrooms and labs, and putting it into action and the do side of the think and do. It’s in all colleges all across campus,” Sheats said.