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SkySong hosts venture boot camp for student entrepreneurs


January 27, 2011

More than 110 student entrepreneurs gathered at ASU SkySong this weekend for five hours of intensive entrepreneurial education and networking at an entrepreneurial summit featuring two dozen speakers from ASU and the local business community. The training session, jointly organized by the Office of University Initiatives and Venture Catalyst at ASU, offered students guidance on the wide variety of issues that new ventures face.

The student attendees were applicants in the ASU Innovation Challenge, an annual competition that calls on undergraduate and graduate students to make a difference in their local and global communities through innovation. More than $45,000 will be awarded to winning Innovation Challenge teams this year, with grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. The 30 finalists for the 2011 competition were announced at the end of Saturday’s session.

Audrey Iffert, Entrepreneurship Catalyst in the Office of University Initiatives, said the attendance at this year’s event speaks to the increasing student awareness of entrepreneurship opportunities on campus and the success past Innovation Challenge winners have had with their ventures.

“Thanks to the incredible diversity and scale of entrepreneurial opportunities available across ASU, we are seeing more and more students pursuing new ventures within the context of their own areas of study,” said Iffert. “The 153 applicant teams in this year’s Innovation Challenge were a 50 percent jump over last year and involved students from more than 100 different majors and every ASU campus.”

Charlie Lewis, vice president of venture development at Arizona Technology Enterprises, spoke in the same vein as he described resources like Venture Catalyst, ASU’s entrepreneurial assistance initiative to help faculty, students, alumni and ASU-linked companies launch new startups or accelerate existing ventures.

“I started a software company when I graduated from ASU in the 1980s and unlike today, we had absolutely no help in launching that company,” said Lewis. “For seven years, we made every mistake you can imagine before managing a successful exit. With Venture Catalyst and the other entrepreneurial programs on campus, ASU students today have the opportunity I never had to tap into a network of experienced folks who have walked in your shoes before you.”

Dan O’Neill, director of entrepreneurship and research initiatives at ASU SkySong, talked about the online and in-person mentoring opportunities available to students.

“Right now, we have almost 100 mentors involved in the ASU Mentor Network,” said O’Neill. “We’re working to grow that number to several hundred over the coming years and are constantly looking for ways to connect these experienced individuals with new student ventures. They want to help.”

Team leaders from two ventures selected as finalists described their experience with the Innovation Challenge. ASU undergraduate Tyler Eltringham is the team leader for OneShot, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing vaccinations for meningococcal meningitis, a life-threatening bacterial disease that annually infects hundreds of thousands of individuals worldwide. Eltringham says the organization will provide one free vaccination in Africa for every vaccine it administers to college students living in dormitories and university housing in the United States.

“We have already gotten a lot out of the Innovation Challenge,” Eltringham said. “We gained an amazing advisory board and have learned what it really takes to start a successful business.”

Casey Hallberg was part of the two-person bioSPY team, which hopes to win Innovation Challenge funds to begin work on a biosensor that can perform quick detection in a home setting of an individual’s glucose levels.

“Even with the great resources at the Biodesign Institute, it takes a lot of funding to get this kind of research done,” said Hallberg. “Funding would allow us to make a prototype to prove it works.”

A full list of this year's finalists can be found on the ASU Innovation Challenge website.  Winners will be announced on February 16.