Advice from Student Entrepreneurs: “Be Fearless and Experiment”

Epicenter – a national hub for entrepreneurship and engineering education funded by the National Science Foundation – is training young undergraduate engineering students to become entrepreneurial leaders.  Epicenter is accomplishing this goal in part through its University Innovation Fellows program, which unites student leaders from schools across the country to work with their peers to catalyze innovation and startup activity on their own campuses. Epicenter teaches students to conduct analyses of their campus ecosystems; provides them with resources and mentorship; and connects them with one another digitally and at live events to promote creative collaboration.

Recently, the Fellows launched a new online University Innovation platform through which students can share information about on-campus entrepreneurship programs and resources.  This public, wiki-editable platform allows students to highlight what works, what doesn’t, and what’s needed in terms of entrepreneurial initiatives and models on college campuses.

We asked these three University Innovation Fellows to share a bit of advice for young entrepreneurs everywhere.

John Oliver, 26, a recent graduate of Penn State University, started the Ultimate Trader Challenge, which challenged students to “trade-up” low-value items, such as pens, to items of much higher value. The student trading-up to the item of the highest value would win the competition. (In this case, the winner traded all the way up to a pickup truck!)

John’s advice: “The first step is to really experiment. You don’t even have to be an entrepreneur at first. Just go and get involved and be fearless and experiment.”

Sean Maroni, 21, a senior at North Carolina State University, founded the NC State Entrepreneurship Initiative Student Ambassadors Program—a group of student-entrepreneur evangelists who are working to create an entrepreneurial culture on campus. He also founded BetaVersity, which works to develop “maker spaces”— physical hubs of creativity where students can connect and share ideas.

Sean’s advice: “Find your community, look for like-minded people to create with, and go for it. Through Epicenter I was able to meet the two co-founders of my company BetaVersity and connect with other supporters and mentors. This community and culture is crucial to our success.”

Alexandra Halbeck, 21, a senior at Tufts University, is a co-founder of the Tufts Venture Fund. This student-run micro-seed fund aims to catalyze the ventures of ambitious Tufts student and alumni entrepreneurs by provigint them with capital, mentorship, and connections. Beyond that, the Fund is also working alongside student organizations and academic departments to advance and stimulate the greater entrepreneurial climate at Tufts University.

Alexandra’s advice: "It's okay to say that you're an entrepreneur, to say 'I made this.' Embrace yourself as a doer and, regardless of how big or small your idea may seem, own it, make it, share it with others and don't be afraid to empower others to do the same."

If you’re interested in organizing entrepreneurial activity on your own campus, note that you can apply to be a University Innovation Fellow. The application deadline Feb. 10, 2014.

This article is part of a series of OSTP blog posts celebrating the month of November as National Entrepreneurship Month.

Tim Raftis and Doug Herrin are Student Volunteers at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

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