On the morning of March 8, a bus carrying 20 Michigan State University students will begin a long road trip to Austin, Texas, where the Spartans will network and pitch their entrepreneurial ventures at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival—an annual event showcasing some of the world’s most creative minds talking about the latest and greatest in technology, business, interactive media and music.
Four of the students making the trip will compete in this year’s Entrepreneurial Eight—part of the Student Startup Madness tournament, which gives student digital startup teams from colleges around the country a chance to pitch their projects to judges who are investors, entrepreneurs and other experts in digital spaces.
The team members are the founders of Roze, started by MSU students Oswald Chisala, an electrical engineering sophomore; Audrey Peña, a premedical science junior; Samuel Phiri, an electrical engineering freshman; and Daniel Shumaker, a computer science sophomore. Born from the need to promote privacy in shared private and public spaces like restrooms, Roze offers an inexpensive smart sensor that recognizes when a space is occupied or empty, and then provides visual color cues to help coordinate people efficiently.
Because it tracks occupancy, the sensor also has applications in emergency situations, primarily among firefighters who might use the technology to find people trapped in burning buildings. The Roze Dock Smart Sensor will come with a free companion mobile app to expand the control, functionality and applications of the device.
“Pitching at the Student Startup Madness tournament at South by Southwest will be an amazing experience,” Chisala says. “As the Roze team, we’re looking to improve our pitching skills, develop a finer product, gain marketing exposure and hopefully get our product validated to the masses.”
Of the 64 teams chosen from around the nation to compete in SXSW Interactive’s Student Startup Madness, 12 were from MSU (twice as many as the next closest school).
This semester, MSU began offering its first academic minor in entrepreneurship and innovation to all students, regardless of their majors. Part of a larger university initiative to engage more students in entrepreneurship, the 15-credit minor—with two core courses and a variety of electives from which to choose—is intended to span myriad disciplines and complement current entrepreneurship programs and resources.
This expanding curriculum helps satisfy the appetite for entrepreneurship and innovation at MSU, as well as anticipates changes in what a post-college future looks like for students, according to Neil Kane, MSU’s first-ever director of undergraduate entrepreneurship.
An experienced entrepreneur and business executive named a “Technology Pioneer” by the World Economic Forum, Kane points to stats that say 40 percent of students who start college now will at some point during their careers be self-employed.
“We need to prepare students differently for what their post-college lives are going to look like,” he says. “Entrepreneurship is a really, really powerful way of developing the life and professional skills needed to excel in the 21st century. I think the entrepreneurship curriculum is valuable to just about every undergraduate to develop skills that will benefit them regardless of what they choose to do.”
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Campus-based opportunities available to Spartan student entrepreneurs help their endeavors take off quickly.
Spartan Innovations, which turns MSU research technologies into businesses, also provides funding and resources for student entrepreneurs, including the student business incubator The Hatch, which offers the resources, space and guidance needed for student startup ideas to mature into viable opportunities for the marketplace. Another offering, The Hive, is a student “idea laboratory” and brainstorming facility located in Wilson Hall. And the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation advances and promotes entrepreneurship within the Broad College of Business, across MSU and throughout the state of Michigan through teaching, research and outreach.
Paul Jaques, director of student and community engagement, works closely with many student startups at The Hatch. He sees an exciting future for student entrepreneurship at MSU.
“The entrepreneurship culture is alive at MSU and growing every day,” he says. “We are starting to see incoming freshmen that have seen the programs we offer here choose MSU to be an entrepreneur. With the new minor in place, we see this culture growing at a very rapid rate.”
• Forbes recently named Black Pine Engineering, which began in the lab of mechanical engineering professor Norbert Mueller, among the country's 15 most innovative college startups.
• The MSU team that created the Tempo Run app—designed to categorize the tempo of a user’s music to match the intensity level of their workouts—took first place at the 2013 Student Startup Madness Tournament at SXSW Interactive.
• Two College of Arts and Letters students who were part of the college’s Pathways to Entrepreneurship program recently launched an app after participating in Techweek in Chicago. With $6,000 in funding from the Pathways program, Brittney Urich and Zoe Zappitell, president of MSU’s Women in Entrepreneurship student organization, created Connecter to make it easier for students to connect socially on campus by finding people with similar interests and getting involved in new groups.
• Broad College of Business students Danny Meltser and Jarett Lazare are among 12 finalist teams competing for $138,000 in cash and prizes at the Baylor New Venture Competition in late February. The team created an app called Bringitt that’s described as a cross between Uber and UPS.