Students explore entrepreneurship
By Ashley Ulrich, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series about entrepreneurship at Dartmouth.
For many students, there are not enough hours in the day to keep up with classes, sports teams and student groups. With iCal schedules full to bursting, it can be easy to focus on little more than getting through each day at a time.
An increasing number of undergraduate students, however, are finding the time to build their own startup companies in fields ranging from biomedical technology to information technology and food innovation. These students are trying to solve problems they experience in their daily lives, such as overcrowded email inboxes or dirty dorm rooms, while others are attempting to translate product ideas from their engineering classes into viable companies.
In response to this interest, clubs like the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Society, Kairos Society and Mitosis are working to bring speakers to campus, host business plan competitions and help students navigate available resources at the Tuck School of Business, Thayer School of Engineering and Geisel School of Medicine. The work to provide access to faculty and alumni mentors helps student startups successfully register patents and secure funding from local venture capitalists. Of Dartmouth’s three entrepreneurial clubs, DES and Mitosis exist only at Dartmouth, while Kairos has branches on college campuses across the country. The groups, which overlap in their membership, collaborate to plan outreach events and connect with alumni.
DARTMOUTH ENTREPRENEURIAL SOCIETY
Founded in 2001, DES is the oldest and largest entrepreneurial club on campus with 20 to 25 active members each term. The club brings speakers to campus twice a month and invites students with entrepreneurial ideas or in-progress startups to participate in “white boarding” sessions at meetings, where they receive critical feedback from their peers.
The group recently started a publication called the Dartmouth Venture Review, a biannual magazine that focuses on entrepreneurship, venture capital and private equity.
Current president John Michel ’14, who has been involved with DES since his freshman year, said the club tries to raise student awareness about business careers that are off the typical recruiting track in investment banking or finance.
“There are a lot of computer science and engineering students that could use those skills to start their own business,” Michel said. “They might realize that, and we want to let them know that they have the resources to pursue that if they want to.”
DES’s largest annual event is its business plan competition, which begins accepting applications from student teams each January. The contest typically receives applications from 30 to 50 teams, and judges, including Tuck professors and local venture capitalists, evaluate the submissions in three rounds over the course of four weeks.
The winning team receives a cash prize of $2,500, and the second and third place teams receive $1,500 and $1,000 respectively. The top three finishers are also offered the chance to compete in Tuck’s business plan competition, Greener Ventures, which occurs in April and offers a $25,000 first-place prize.
Alison Stace-Naughton ’11 was part of the student group that placed second in DES’s business plan competition and first in Tuck’s competition. Her group presented models for a medical device that stabilizes the stomach during gastroenterological surgery with a vacuum mechanism.
The idea, which she and three other students developed in Introduction to Engineering, currently has a registered patent. The group is working with two Tuck alumni in Boston to raise money that will go toward further design development and, eventually, a Food and Drug Administration review.
Mitosis is Dartmouth’s newest entrepreneurship club, founded last spring by Riley Ennis ’15 and Matt Ross ’15. The club is an “accelerator program” that helps student groups build their own startup companies by pairing them with faculty mentors and assisting them in the product development process.
The group works closely with Tuck’s Barris Incubator Program, as well as undergraduate and Tuck professors who specialize in entrepreneurship and marketing.
“We’re trying to pull together all these resources across campus and synthesize what’s available for students,” Ross said. “There are a lot of kids with great entrepreneurial ideas, but they don’t know how to find alumni mentor or funding resources.”
Mitosis worked with six student startup teams in the fall and plans to take on a new group of startups in the spring, Ross said. At the end of the fall term, the student groups pitched their startups to Tuck professors and local venture capitalists at a Demo Day presentation co-hosted with Tuck.
One of the teams, SquareOne Mail, recently signed a contract with local venture capital firm Wasabi Ventures to continue developing their smartphone email sorting application, said Branko Cerny ’13, a founding member of SquareOne. The group, which includes software designer James Mock ’15 and digital art designer Sang Lee ’13, first interacted with Wasabi at Demo Day.
Although Cerny will head to Google next year, he will work with Wasabi’s West Coast office and plans to continue collaborating with the SquareOne team as they prepare for market release.
“Wasabi Ventures is incubating us, providing us resources like a chief of operations and software engineers,” Cerny said. “We’ll still be a founding team and help in product development, but Wasabi will be able to support us with the groundwork that will allow us to release our first product in a few months.”
This winter, Mitosis focused on expanding its outreach to professors and alumni and hosted Impact 2013, an open event for community members to raise awareness about entrepreneurship on campus, Ross said.
Held in the main ballroom of the Hanover Inn on March 2, the event highlighted 45 student startup projects. Students presented their ideas and companies in a science fair-style setup, with posters and displays arranged on a long table that snaked around the ballroom’s perimeter.
The event attracted about 200 townspeople, alumni, faculty and students, as well as interested investors from local venture capitalist firms.
“Having interested students in the same room creates spin-off for new ventures, meetings with investors and helps to create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship on campus,” said Ennis, one of the event’s organizers. “Once students catch the bug, especially at a place like Dartmouth with this level of intelligence, the potential is huge.”
Kairos Society, an international nonprofit that aims to foster innovation and entrepreneurship on college campuses, builds business partnerships among students and provides them with mentorship opportunities. The group has partnerships with Autodesk, Johnson and Johnson, General Electric and American Airlines.
Dartmouth’s Kairos chapter is still in its early stages, said Ennis, who, in addition to his involvement in Mitosis, is an executive member of Dartmouth’s Kairos club and the international organization. Kairos was founded on campus last fall but has so far been unable to maintain regular meetings and membership.
“Personally, I’ve been very involved in other groups like Mitosis on campus,” Ennis said. “But I think that Kairos itself is one of the fastest growing and most valuable ways to make connections to other students and industry leaders as an undergraduate.”
In the future, Ennis hopes to grow both Mitosis and Kairos and increase interactions among the business groups on campus.
Each year, Kairos board members select a group of 50 student companies from its chapters to visit the New York City Stock Exchange trading floor and present their ideas to business leaders and media organizations. This year, the group included DiagnosMe, a company started by four Dartmouth students in Introduction to Engineering this fall.
The team — Ennis, Katherine Franklin ’15, Rob Lauzen ’15 and Kiah Williams ’15 — developed an early detection medical product to monitor for serious diseases including Alzheimer’s, certain cancers and Type 2 diabetes. Users apply a small sweat collection device to their skin while exercising and use an iPhone application to analyze the results.
The team received positive feedback from pharmaceutical companies during their February visit to the stock exchange.
“Telemedicine is becoming a really big part of medicine these days and medicine of the future,” Franklin said. “The Kairos event gave us a lot of input about how to go forward and get funding to get the clinical trials we need going.”
Clinical trials are the next step before the group seeks FDA approval for their product, Franklin said. While the group has already tested the biosensor’s ability to detect the common cold, the device needs further testing for more serious diseases.
Cerny is a former member of The Dartmouth senior staff.
Staff writer Josh Koenig contributed reporting to this story.