From the outside, it may not look like the best deal: 16 weeks of intensive workshops followed by eight months building a company from nothing. Students do not get credit for it and yet, they consider the Venture Accelerator Program to be invaluable.
“I don’t know if my company would exist without the program,” said David Hunt, a graduate student in the College of Business.
After participating in Venture Accelerator, Hunt founded The Wild Gym Company in 2012 with friend, Dan Vinson. The Wild Gym Company manufactures equipment for outdoor workouts.
“The biggest challenge was turning an idea into something real, into a company,” Hunt said. “You kind of just have to do it and that’s where the Venture Accelerator Program provided the mentorship and the support.”
Venture Accelerator is a program offered by the Institute for Entrepreneurship in the College of Business. Students of any discipline can apply for the year-long process that helps to turn ideas into successful businesses.
Participants spend the first four months going to weekly workshops taught by fellow entrepreneurs and the following eight months working independently with mentors and advisors.
“It’s definitely not the place to be theoretical with an idea,” said Program Director Charisse Bowen. “It’s for students who have an idea and know they want to move towards launching their business.”
The program is offered to all majors, regardless of business experience.
Participant Kellie Walters and her partner Chrissy Schaefer founded Smart Fit Chicks, a research-based fitness website for women in the spring of 2012. Both Walters and Schaefer studied health and exercise science during their time at CSU and were not sure how to make their business idea a reality.
“A lot of the people in the program were business majors, and that wasn’t our expertise,” said Walters. “The program was incredibly helpful to us and helped us to really launch our business and to think about it strategically as opposed to going in blindly.”
Students create successful businesses with the training and mentoring they get from Venture Accelerator, as well as the networking they do with fellow entrepreneurs along the way.
“It gives you every single opportunity, opens doors, helps you make connections and offers funding,” Hunt said. “It gives you everything you need to be able to take it from an idea to reality.”
The funding comes from the CSU Business Advancement Fund, a completely donor-driven award given to select start-ups to help with the early stages of their business.
Both Hunt’s and Walters’ companies received money from the Fund. Hunt used it to build prototypes and Walters used it for website re-design and merchandise.
“These are small awards of around $3,000 that can be used for whatever they need to get themselves up and running or get themselves in front of investors,” Bowen said.
Though the funding is an award that the students do not have to pay back, the program requires a lot of work and is a big time commitment.
The weekly workshops alone are scheduled to last three hours, but both Bowen and Walters can testify to some workshops lasting up to seven or eight hours.
“On paper, it looks like a huge time commitment, but every time we walked away feeling like we got something out of it and it was worthwhile,” Walters said.
Students can apply for the Venture Accelerator Program online until Oct. 31.
Collegian Campus Beat Reporter McKenna Ferguson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.