Dreamers Turned Doers: How Michigan State University is Incubating the Next Generation of Student Entrepreneurs
By Gerard Smith, Business Development Intern, MSU Hatch & Spartan Innovations
If you ask any successful entrepreneur about their journey toward triumphant innovation, they will undoubtedly reference someone who provided them with vital guidance along the way. For Bill Gates, it was Warren Buffett. For Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs.
Yet the majority of aspiring entrepreneurs don’t have access to a revolutionary billionaire. And because starting a business involves many different kinds of expertise and all sorts of uncertainties, it can be difficult to find people and organizations committed to helping one realize their vision for a better tomorrow. Even at the most fundamental levels.
However, this is not the case at Michigan State University.
Thanks to a growing number of resources focused on entrepreneurship and innovation, such as The MSU Hatch and Spartan Innovations, there has never been a better time for MSU students to make the transition from a dreamer to a doer — no Mark Zuckerberg needed.
The MSU Hatch (aka, The Hatch) is a co-working space designed for student entrepreneurs. It’s where teams find freedom to explore their ideas, conduct research, collaborate, and develop their startups. But they are not alone in their exploration — The Hatch also provides hands-on mentorship from entrepreneurship experts as well as a fleet of business, marketing, design, and development interns. In fact, these interns are students themselves, sharing the same passion for innovation that drives student entrepreneurs and employing their distinct skills to help peers achieve necessary goals.
But this group of nearly twenty interns represents only one part of a team connected to Spartan Innovations, the organization that manages and operates The Hatch. And herein lies a great asset for MSU student entrepreneurs: direct access to individuals dedicated to connecting them with capital funding opportunities, mentorship programs, alumni lectures, networking events, and much more. So, regardless of a startup’s proposed direction — success is the priority.
Paul Jaques, Director of Student and Community Engagement at Spartan Innovations, was one of the first people brought on board to mold The Hatch and Spartan Innovations and expand the entrepreneurship program back in 2012.
Previously, Jaques was working as an Internship Developer for MSU Career Services, where he doubled as an unofficial liaison between students who had business ideas and the external entrepreneurial resources they needed.
As an entrepreneur himself, he possessed valuable connections into the venture world. And by having his hand on the pulse of a budding student community of entrepreneurs, Jaques was a natural fit for the challenge of building Spartan Innovations from the ground up. (In many ways, Spartan Innovations developed similarly to a startup and remains one to this day.)
Although there was no exact blueprint for this type of organization, other universities, such as Harvard, Stanford and The University of Michigan, were also developing their own entrepreneurship programs. So, Jaques began researching how these universities were forming their plans and what types of strategies were prevailing. In addition, he began cultivating relationships with professors from both MSU and elsewhere who were passionate about entrepreneurship, gathering insight on effective ways to outline such a diverse professional escapade.
After assembling an initial foundation of knowledge, Jaques began to reach out to his target audience — MSU students. The goal was to compile a better understanding of their initial thoughts regarding entrepreneurship, helping to determine what was needed to spark enthusiasm and encourage achievement.
“Right away there was a huge interest from students who were getting involved with the Entrepreneurship Association and wanting to learn innovation and start companies,” said Jaques.
TempoRun, an app that enabled runners to categorize music based on tempo and create playlists complimentary to their various running paces, was one of the first startups from The Hatch and Spartan Innovations to see notable success. In fact, the five MSU students who made the app won a student startup pitch competition at SXSW; allowing them to fully develop and launch their product.
Indeed, the stage was set for other students to start building their own companies.
Then, in 2014, The Hatch underwent major renovations stemming from an influx of student interest, doubling in size and adding amenities. A sign of things to come, the appearance of the space continues to change as students offer new ideas on how it should look and what should be included.
“What we thought we had then has evolved every year,” Jaques said.
Some of the more obscure items to make the cut: space chairs, standing desks, a 3D printer, ping pong table, gumball machine, and kegerator.
For the more traditional types — a coffee maker.
As The Hatch and Spartan Innovations continue to grow, additional resources are being implemented for students who are interested in entrepreneurship.
Intro nights, workshops, and Innovate State speaker events offer engaging, yet casual opportunities for students to learn and network with peers, faculty, and successful alumni entrepreneurs (not to mention occasional free food and drinks). You can view a full calendar of events by clicking here.
Another resource is Conquer Accelerator, which recently finished its second-ever cohort season. In partnership with The Hatch and Spartan Innovations, Conquer has become one of the premier business acceleration programs in Michigan, helping startups, many of which are founded by MSU students, overcome hurdles by providing $20k in funding and ten weeks of thorough hands-on mentorship and training.
There’s also a new dev shop competition hosted by The Hatch where students pitch their ideas to a team of in-house app developers, and the top four to five ideas are chosen for development. As it happens, the initial round of pitching yielded a whopping 19 business ideas!
When asked about The Hatch and Spartan Innovations and the role it’s played in shaping his business, Matthew Eleweke ’17, founder of Sympl., said, “I had no prior experience with running a business, LLC paperwork, business plans, executive summaries, or anything like that. Spartan Innovations introduced me to these things and provided me with network connections who helped me learn the things needed to move from idea phase to functioning business. If you are driven and are willing to put in the work, there is a lot you can learn from the Spartan Innovations program.”
Like Sympl., there have been many other novel startups to come out of The Hatch and Spartan Innovations since its inauguration over five years ago, including: Conecter, The York Project, Protection, GoSpot, Prndl, and Vade Nutrition, among others.
However, getting involved with The Hatch and Spartan Innovations provides more than the opportunity to blaze a trail of entrepreneurship. It also empowers students to learn unique business skills and gain valuable experience, preparing them for future career work. Many former student entrepreneurs who have gone on to land jobs at intriguing startups and other incredible organizations credit their participation in MSU’s entrepreneurship program as a key step in their professional development.
Now, it’s your turn. If you have an idea for a product, service, app, or are simply interested in learning more about how you can get involved with entrepreneurship at MSU, visit The Hatch website. Also, did you know there’s a university-wide entrepreneurship and innovation minor? Click here to learn more, and don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter!
You could even stop by and say hello. The Hatch and Spartan Innovations are located on the third floor of 325 E. Grand River Ave. in East Lansing.
We can’t wait to collaborate.
Gerard Smith is a senior at Michigan State University studying Advertising & PR. To read more from Voices of The MSU Hatch, click here.